Defenders Magazine

Winter 2019

Volume 94, Issue 2


Photo Credit: USFWS

A wild trumpeting call rang across the marsh. I raised my binoculars and caught a flutter of snow-white feathers and black-tipped wings alighting in the shallow waters of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Two birds—whooping cranes—5-feet tall to their scarlet crowns, gracefully folded their massive wings, straightened and stealthily stepped across the marsh. Aransas is winter habitat for whoopers, essential to the recovery of this highly endangered species. I didn’t expect to see the cranes on my visit, just two months after Hurricane Harvey ripped through the refuge in 2017. But there they were, the first to arrive on the Texas Gulf Coast, gliding in on the autumn winds after a 2,500-mile migration from remote nesting grounds in Canada. Still, a feeling of apprehension came over me. Harvey had inundated more than half of the refuge’s freshwater sources with salt water, compromising crucial habitat for whooping cranes, which had almost gone extinct in the 1940s from hunting and habitat loss.


© Robert Harding Picture Library/National Geographic Creative
Behind every rebounding endangered species—like the grizzly bear, gray wolf and gray whale—lies a plan that takes recovery from hope to reality.
© Jason Pulley/Alamy Stock Photo (captive)
In a species-saving move, a federal judge ruled against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and its management of the last red wolf population in the wild, stopping it from authorizing private landowners to kill red wolves without first demonstrating they are a threat.
© Don Henderson
Floating is effortless for a California sea otter. The problem is keeping the population afloat.
Courtesy of Bob Severson
Drawn by the diversity of birds, traveling retirees Bob and Mary Ann Severson started volunteering in 2005 at Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, a sunny little pocket along the Gulf Coast of Texas about 20 miles from Mexico. They loved it so much, they decided to move nearby a year later.
© Brian J. Skerry/National Geographic Creative
Development, oil and gas drilling, water and noise pollution, prey availability and the beluga’s own slow reproductive rate could all be major limiting factors for the Cook Inlet population.