Photo copyright Wendy Worrall Redal

When my family went to Churchill, Manitoba to see polar bears, one of the more poignant dimensions of our trip was the awareness that these amazing animals are in danger. As the global climate continues to warm, the bears’ sea ice hunting grounds are melting sooner and freezing later each year, imperiling their survival. I pondered whether my grandchildren might one day have the same opportunity as my children did to see these  magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.

Killer Whale

Orca (killer whale) gorging on a Chinook salmon in Washington’s San Juan Islands. Photo: Astrid Van Ginneken

Likewise, when I have been fortunate to see other endangered species in the wild — whether orcas in the San Juan Islands of the Pacific Northwest, or the American crocodile in the Everglades, or a Hawaiian monk seal sunbathing on a Kauai beach — I recognize that such encounters are rare treasures.

If you’re a wildlife aficionado, chances are you are especially interested in seeing animals whose future in the wild is threatened, since those opportunities may be further limited in the future.

Some endangered species in North America are making recoveries, such as the Canada lynx, Karner blue butterfly and Indiana bat. Other species continue to struggle, while some, like the Red Wolf (Canis rufus) teeter on the brink of extinction. Fewer than 100 of these wolves remain in the wild in northeastern North Carolina, where they have been decimated due to overhunting and habitat fragmentation. The Florida panther likewise has a population of only 100 or so, confined to a handful of reserves in their namesake state. Progress in boosting numbers of endangered species is due in large part to sufficient funding for their protection and on-the-ground efforts from local landowners and conservation partners, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

Mama Griz

Mama grizzly and cubs, Glacier National Park. Photo: National Park Service

Why not make your next vacation one that brings you close to some of the continent’s endangered animals? Go big, and pursue a view of a grizzly in Glacier National Park. Roughly 300 of them live within the park in northwest Montana, often sighted in Many Glacier Valley and Logan Pass areas. Or scout for gray wolves in Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley.  The best chances to see them are in the winter, when crowds are few and the wolves stand out against the white backdrop, a pristine canvas against which to hunt. Head east and watch for Northern right whales off Cape Cod National Seashore, or canoe the brackish waters of Florida Bay, looking for the Florida manatee.

Gibbon wolf pack standing on snow

Gibbon wolf pack, Yellowstone National Park. Photo: National Park Service.

You can also spy endangered species that are smaller and perhaps closer to home — though just as important to the web of life in the ecosystems in which they dwell. Hike Vermont’s Green Mountains and hope to spot a New England cottontail rabbit hopping across your path. Look for the small brown Mitchell’s satyr butterfly along the Natchez Trace National Parkway in Mississippi, or the mission blue butterfly at San Francisco’s Presidio. Bird lovers can watch for roseate terns and piping plovers on the beach at Fire Island National Seashore.

Chisos Mountain hedgehog cactus

Chisos Mountain hedgehog cactus. Photo: Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.

There are also plenty of endangered species worth seeking out that are flora, rather than fauna. Some are tiny, like the pink Chisos Mountain hedgehog cactus found near the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park. Others are gigantic, notably the California redwoods on display at Muir Woods and elsewhere.

To learn more about the endangered species that may be on view near you, check out this recent guide from the New York Times: A Coast-to-Coast Guide for Where to View Endangered Species. For additional possibilities, look, too at this Directory of Rare Wonders.

Is there an endangered animal or plant that’s been especially significant in your travels?  Something you’d recommend others seek out?  Please share your experiences in the comments section below!

Yours in the quest for conservation,