Is “vaquita” the name of an endangered species, a clothing brand, or a type of food? How about “saola”?
If you answered “endangered species,” you’ve beat more than half of Americans who were asked that same question. The vaquita, whose name is Spanish for “little cow,” is the most endangered marine mammal on Earth, with likely fewer than 30 left in their native Gulf of California.
The saola, also called the Asian unicorn, is a forest-dwelling antelope found along Southeast Asia’s Greater Mekong River. Only discovered in 1992, the saola is already widely hunted, and only a few hundred individuals are left in the wild. (Read about more animals headed for extinction.)
A recent survey by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums found that Americans vastly underestimate the number of species (1,459) protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. That’s in part because people are more aware of the more photogenic creatures, like giant pandas and tigers, than the lesser known species that fly under the radar. (Check out our Photo Ark, a multiyear effort to photograph the planet’s animals.)
The survey also revealed that some participants thought certain animals, like bald eagles and humpback whales, were on the list. But those species were removed in 2007 and 2016, respectively, after their populations had stabilized.
In contrast, some participants didn’t know other animals had made their way onto the list in recent years: Some species of giraffe, hummingbird, salmon, and cheetah are currently listed as endangered. Although some species on the U.S. Endangered Species List don’t live within the nation’s borders, putting them on list helps with international conservation efforts to deter illegal animal trade. (Related: “How Do You Protect Endangered Animals at Night? Ask an Astrophysicist.”)
Although we might not know all these at-risk animals off the tops of our heads, they still deserve our attention. In honor of Endangered Species Day, take the quiz above to see how well you know your rare species.