KANSAS CITY, Mo. – May 20 marks Endangered Species Day, a day dedicated to celebrating, learning about, and taking action to protect threatened and endangered species.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, over 1,300 species are currently federally listed as threatened or endangered in the United States. 

But what some Missourians may not know is that several of those species can be found right in your local zoo, your backyard – even your neighborhood retention pond.

How can I help protect endangered species?

The Missouri Department of Conservation reports over 50 endangered species across the state, with aquatic species accounting for nearly 53% of the endangered species list in Missouri.

Every aquatic endangered species in Missouri is listed as a freshwater fish, meaning they thrive in rivers, ponds, cave streams and lakes. Therefore, it’s not surprising when residents come across an endangered species, especially when coasting down the landlocked Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

Finding an endangered species in the wild isn’t cause for concern, but knowing how to help protect their habitat is.

The National Park Service (NPS) advises citizens to report any destruction of the birds or their habitat by calling the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at 605-224-8693. The NPS requests bird watcher’s keep a safe distance from plovers and terns, so as to not disturb their ecosystem.

Fishermen should immediately return any sturgeon caught to the water, and ensure any trash or food on or near the waterfront is properly disposed of. Buried trash and food on the sandbars attracts predators which may prey on eggs or chicks, according to the NPS.

Furthermore, dog owners should keep their pets off the sandbars during the nesting season to ensure safe hatching.

Get involved on Endangered Species Day

Ellie McMullen, communications manager at the Kansas City Zoo, said the zoo is prepping for its Endangered Species Weekend on Saturday, May 21, through Sunday, May 22, a special event where visitors receive an “Endangered Species Passport,” upon entry and can participate in a zoo-wide scavenger hunt.

The event is designed to educate citizens on endangered species at the zoo, like the black rhinoceros, African painted dog, Bornean orangutan and more.

“Find them all, return your passport to Guest Services and you’ll be entered into a special drawing to win a Zoo prize pack!” she said in an email. “This event is included in the price of general admission.”

McMullen said the zoo maintains several endangered species projects that are specific to the Missouri area, including the Freshwater Mussel Propagation and Reintroduction Program and Eastern Spotted Skunk Health and Disease Assessment

For more information on the Kansas City Zoo’s conservation initiatives and how to make a donation to its causes, visit its website.