North America’s Most Endangered Animals- page 5 | Science | Smithsonian
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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

Vancouver Island Marmot (Marmota vancouverensis)

Vancouver Island marmot
(Jared Hobbs / All Canada Photos / Corbis)
As its name suggests, this furry herbivore, about the size of a large house cat, is found only on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. Small colonies of one to three family units live in high-elevation forests on the island. No one is quite sure how many marmots there were before counting began in 1979, but numbers dwindled from a high of several hundred in the mid-1980s to a mere 35, all in one spot, in 2004.

Researchers are still studying the reasons behind the marmot’s decline, but clear-cutting the island’s forests likely had some effect. Without the cover of trees, the marmots may have become more vulnerable to predation by birds, wolves, cougars or a combination of the three. A captive-breeding program has had some success, and dozens of marmots have been released on Vancouver Island since 2003. However, there are still some worries, as a recent study found that captive-born marmots are even more vulnerable to golden eagles than their wild-born brethren. – SZ

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