Many species of animals face the threat of extinction all over the world, and those in the Appalachian region of the United States are no exception.
“The best time to protect a species is while it’s still common,” said Jen Riley, Director of Veterinary Services at the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center.
Riley explained that all these different species rely on each other. The endangered species need the other species to survive, meaning that it is more important to look at the ecosystem as a whole rather than solely at the individual animal.
According to an article titled “Get to Know Appalachia’s Vulnerable Species” by The Appalachian Voice, endangered or threatened species in Appalachia include the Bog Turtle, Carolina Northern Flying Squirrel, Indiana Bat, Small-whorled Pogonia, Spruce-fir Moss Spider, Roanoke Logperch, Rock Gnome Lichen, and the Appalachian Cottontail.
“For the most part it’s habitat loss, it’s a huge one for pretty much every species that we have,” said Riley, on what is causing these animals to be endangered or threatened. “On the human wildlife conflict side of things, humans are causing habitat loss too, but we have a lot of cat attacks, and we have a lot of human spread diseases.”
The effects of habitat loss are evident for the previously mentioned Bog Turtle. According to an article titled “Bog Turtle” by the Defenders of Wildlife, these turtles are endangered because the bogs they call home are rapidly disappearing and many of the bogs that remain are broken up by roads and other human made infrastructure.
The wildlife center where Riley works does many things to help with the conservation of animals here in Appalachia.
We’re a full-service wildlife teaching hospital, so we take in sick, injured, orphaned wildlife and we provide medical and surgical care,” said Riley. “We also have a pretty big education program, so we do a lot of like educating the community and public about wildlife interactions and ways they can improve human wildlife conflict and then we have a large teaching program for vet students and undergraduates that are interested in rehabilitation and medicine.”
While there are many conservation centers like the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center that work day in and day out to keep animals and their populations safe, there is more that can be done to help preserve these animals. There are many ways that the average citizen can help animals stay safe in their community too.
“Not using lead is a really important one that we ask people to do if they’re hunting,” said Riley. “We see a huge amount of lead poisoning in our birds, especially in scavengers, and over 90 percent of our bald eagles have lead poisoning upon admission.”
While the usage of lead when hunting is dangerous for scavenger birds, they are not the only animals that are affected by it.
“Switching to non-lead is really important for not only the eagles and vultures but also for environmental health,” said Riley. “These are things that can impact other species and humans as well.”
There are a few other things we can do to help these animals stay safe. According to Riley, many wild animals that are brought into her center are victims of attacks from domesticated cats. What is the solution?
“Cats are domestic animals. They should be kept inside just like dogs; they should be cared for the same way dogs are,” said Riley. “If they’re outside, they should be on a leash so that they’re not attacking and killing wildlife, because they are responsible for a large number of animal extinctions worldwide, and they’re certainly a problem in the U.S. and in our area as well.”
Riley also mentions that we should preserve whatever habitats we can and that there are a few ways we can do this. For example, we can plant native plants when buying large pieces of land. We can also help to keep the environment healthy by not polluting. Riley also mentioned that we can protect habitats by avoiding building more subdivisions.
For more information on how to help protect endangered species and their habitats here in Appalachia, reach out to a conservation center, such as the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center, in your community.