From barn owls to puritan-tiger beetles, Connecticut is home to 23 endangered species

While polar bears and pandas make plenty of headlines, many other endangered species are at risk — and with Endangered Species Day on May 21, now is the perfect time to learn about them.

Jim Knox, curator of education and zoologist at the Beardsley Zoo, explained that Endangered Species Day is celebrated not just nationally, but around the world. “It is a celebration of endangered species successes and also a reminder that we all have a lot of work to do to ensure the protection or the conservation of these species,” he said.

Knox said that each species serves a different role that maintains nature’s different needs. “Every species, whether we know it or not, every single species out there on the planet has a job to do, and that job means in one form of another they make the world go round. They aerate our soil so our plants will grow well, they filter water so that we have clean water for drinking. We have animals like turkey vultures who mitigate the spread of disease through transmission of bacterial laden carcases,” he said. “Different species have different functions, but all species contribute to the function of our planet.”

According to Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), the Nutmeg state is home to 23 endangered species, whether they’re sporting scales or wings. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service defines an endangered species as “one that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”

Connecticut is home to animals like the barn owl, long-eared owl, northern harrier, sharp-shinned hawk, bog turtle, leatherback sea turtle, timber rattlesnake, eastern spadefoot, blue-spotted salamander, North American least shrew and puritan-tiger beetle — all among the list of endangered critters.

While 23 endangered species might not seem like a lot, across the United States alone the Environmental Protection Agency claims that there are more than 1,300 endangered and threatened species. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates that there are more than 37,400 species currently at risk of becoming extinct.

Knox said that the Beardsley Zoo is home to different endangered and threatened species and currently has 25 different Species Survival Plan (SSP) programs designed to raise those populations and get them back into the wild.

One of the zoo’s SSP programs focuses on red wolves — like resident red wolf, Peanut. “We want to highlight the status and the tenuous hold red wolves have out there in the wild, but also the hope we have for red wolves in the future,” Knox said. “They’re at a very interesting juncture at their conservation right now. They’re the rarest wolves on the planet.” He added that there are fewer than 300 red wolves in the entire world, but with conservation efforts there’s still hope for the species.

Knox said there are many things people can do to help protect wildlife and explained that the first step is education. “An educated public is a conservation-oriented public and a public that takes action to protect their own backyard,” he said.

Knox said people can get involved in local conservation groups land trusts and citizen science programs. He also noted that by visiting zoos, aquariums and museums “visitation translates into conservation directly” and explained that 25% of the zoo’s admission cost goes directly to fund conservation efforts.

The Beardsley Zoo, Mystic Aquarium and Maritime Aquarium are all hosting special programs for Endangered Species Day.

Beardsley Zoo

Knox will hold a lecture called “The Rarest Wolf of All” on May 21 at 6 p.m. to educate folks about the red wolf and how the species’ population has dwindled to having less than 300 wolves left. The lecture is free, but donations are accepted. Register for the lecture online.

Mystic Aquarium

In celebration of Endangered Species Day, the aquarium will be hosting a program from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. that recognizes animal conservation. “From vaquitas to African penguins, we’ll be celebrating the conservation efforts that are in place to help save some of our most threatened,” the aquarium states on their website. The program is free with aquarium admission.

Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk

To celebrate Endangered Species Day the aquarium is encouraging the public to participate in the Endangered Species Coalition’s chalk art contest. On May 22 the aquarium will have an Endangered Species Day activity table running from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to educate visitors about endangered sea turtles. The program is free with admission.