There are a number of endangered or threatened animals or plant species in South Carolina. While we can’t cover all of them in one blog, you can check out the complete list of endangered animals of South Carolina at http://scwf.org/endangered-species. In this blog, we’ll highlight a few of the more talked about species on the endangered list such as the Eastern Cougar, the Gopher Tortoise, the Indiana Bat and the West-Indian Manatee. Let’s take a look!
The Eastern Cougars were originally eliminated from the state due to habitat loss from major logging operations in the 1800s and from being killed by ranchers protecting their livestock. There are occasional sightings but none confirmed with photo evidence. The last known Eastern Cougar living in South Carolina was killed in 1938. While a small population is believed to still exist in the Florida Everglades, they haven’t been sighted for so long that the Eastern Cougar was declared extinct in 2011. However, the animal remains on the endangered list just in case as there are species who haven’t been sighted for many years that have re-emerged in recent years. This will keep them protected from being killed should they resurface in the future.
The Gopher Tortoise is one of the oldest living species, originating in North America about 60 million years ago. They are about a foot long and weigh around 30 lbs. They are a dark tan or gray in color. They are important for the local ecosystem because they dig deep burrows, usually about 30 feet long and from three to 20 feet deep. Many animals share or live in their burrows with them (or take over abandoned burrows) such as snakes, Gopher Frogs, mice, foxes, rabbits, skunks, opossum, burrowing owls, quail and other ground birds, lizards and toads. Gopher Tortoise populations are declining due to habitat loss caused by human activities.
The Indiana Bat is a tiny bat that was one of the first animals added to the endangered list following the enactment of the Endangered Species Act in 1973. The Indiana Bat is endangered in 23 states, including South Carolina. The last official sighting of an Indiana Bat in South Carolina was in 1993. They are endangered due to habitat loss and human activity in caves. Humans who go cave exploring or spelunking in winter during the bats’ hibernation season can disturb the bats, causing their metabolism to rise, which ultimately causes them to freeze to death and die. These bats are only a few inches long with a wingspan of 9-11 inches and a weight of less than an ounce.
Also called “sea cows,” the West-Indian Manatee is a friendly, curious animal that often interacts with humans. The closest living relative of the manatee is the elephant. The biggest threat to their survival are humans. They also have low reproductive rates when coupled with accidents involving boats, manatees are endangered at the federal level. Manatees’ color camouflages them so well in the water, boaters often drive right over them causing injuries and sometimes death. Manatees weigh between 400 to 1,300 pounds when fully grown and are peaceful, easy-going vegetarians.
There are a number of species on the list of endangered animals of South Carolina. For most of these animals, habitat loss and human activities have caused their decline to the point they’ve become threatened or endangered. Knowing which animals are endangered is critical to helping them survive and rebound. Species loss is happening at an unprecedented rate around the world. Taking the time to learn about endangered animals in our area allows us to participate in conservation efforts that could possibly save these species.