North America’s Most Endangered Animals- page 3 | Science | Smithsonian
Kemp's ridleys are the world's smallest sea turtles and are also the most endangered. (Erich Schlegel / International_NI / Corbis)

North America’s Most Endangered Animals

Snails, marmots, condors and coral reef are among the many species on the continent that are close to extinction

Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle

Kemps Ridley sea turtle
(Erich Schlegel / International_NI / Corbis)
The smallest of the world’s sea turtles, Kemp’s ridleys are also the most endangered. In 1947, 42,000 of these turtles were filmed nesting on a single beach near Rancho Nuevo, Mexico. That film also captured people digging up the nests to collect the eggs, which number more than 100 per nest; the eggs are eaten and are considered an aphrodisiac. In the United States, all six sea turtle species are listed as threatened or endangered. As with other species, many Kemp’s ridleys have been killed after getting trapped in fishing gear as they travel up and down the East Coast. By 1985, only 702 turtle nests were found in their entire nesting range, which extends into Texas.

Officials in the United States and Mexico have been working to protect Kemp’s ridleys for decades. There is now a system of reserves, including the Rancho Nuevo beach, where turtles can safely nest. People as far away as Massachusetts help by rescuing turtles that take a wrong turn when moving south and getting stuck in Cape Cod Bay. Those efforts have seen success—an estimated 8,000 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles nested in 2009. – SZ

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