Often, guests are greeted by high-pitched chirps echoing off the walls of the Great Hall. Some may assume those are synthetic sounds meant to create an immersive experience into water, wildlife and wild places. In reality, a single bird donning a bright yellow-orange beak and a head of white feathers is responsible for the soundscape. Liberty, our resident bald eagle, stands tall at the entrance to the Mountain Forest as an ambassador for her species… a species that bounced back from the brink of extinction in the last 50 years.
Thanks to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) enacted in 1973, hundreds of plant and animal species have recovered, stabilized or improved! The ESA’s goal is to prevent the loss or harm of endangered and threatened species and to preserve the places they live. This year, we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act by recognizing the success stories behind some of our most notable South Carolina species.
The National Treasure
Liberty came into our care after suffering from an injury to her wing that hinders her ability to fly, and therefore was non-releasable. Liberty’s story is a great conversation starter to discuss the struggles her wild counterparts faced, and how the ESA helped her species rebound to healthy numbers.
In the 1950s and 1960s, bald eagle populations were rapidly declining due to habitat loss and chemical pesticide use. Once they were added to the endangered species list in 1967 under the precursor to the ESA, scientists divided the species into five recovery populations to first address their specific threats and then create a comprehensive recovery plan on the federal, state and public levels. These efforts were wildly effective, and the bald eagle was officially delisted from the endangered species list in 2007. Their population recovery is noted as one of the most successful in the ESA’s history!
The Elusive Living Dinosaur
It should come as no surprise that sea turtles are also on the endangered species list… after all, our work in the Sea Turtle Care Center™ offers a glimpse into the perils these charismatic creatures face. Though all seven species of sea turtles are listed as threatened or endangered, leatherback sea turtles were actually one of the first to be added to the list. Leatherbacks are the largest sea turtle species — most similar to the ancient and extinct marine turtle, Archelon — making them a one-of-a-kind living dinosaur!
Leatherbacks are a highly migratory and elusive sea turtle species that spend the majority of their time in deep water and are rare to encounter close to shore. Though they were listed as endangered in 1970, their status has not changed in the last 50 years. Ongoing conservation efforts, like nesting and habitat protection, implementation of turtle excluder devices on shrimping vessels, community awareness and more have helped in preventing this species’ extinction.
The Everyday Hero
Did you know that the ESA is credited with saving 99% of the species on its list? A lot of groups help make the ESA so successful: federal agencies, state and local governments, conservation organizations, private groups and more to accomplish this staggering statistic.
One we are particularly proud to be a part of is the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Saving Animals From Extinction which helps create and facilitate species recovery plans in collaboration with these groups. There’s one other incredibly important entity to mention: you.
Your support makes a big difference in these species’ recovery. Actions as simple as learning about these endangered species, sharing their stories, shifting small habits each day and supporting conservation organizations make a big difference in the future for these animals.
Visit today to learn more about Liberty’s story, our sea turtles undergoing rehabilitation in the Sea Turtle Care Center and the other species we hold so dear to our hearts, so we can share their stories with generations to come.
Published December 8, 2023