Bureaucratic Wait Times Threaten Endangered Species

pictures of the long-eared bat and the parachute penstemon both threatened on the Endangered Species List

Is the long-eared bat cuter than the parachute penstemon?

Endangered Species List Wait Times

Researchers at the University of Missouri released a report detailing the unequal wait times to get at-risk species on the Endangered Species List. The wait-times for listing appear to be biased based on scientific divisions. The process, which congress intended to have a 2-year timeline, takes over 12 years to complete on average, but there’s a lot of variation in the range. Vertebrate animals such as mammals, reptiles, fish, amphibians and birds can be listed in under 2 years – some as short as 6 months. Plants and invertebrates, on the other hand, can take much longer with some flowering plants taking almost 38 years to list!

“While the Service can account for species groups in its prioritization system, it’s not supposed to be mammals versus insects versus ferns but, rather, how unique is this species within all of the ecological system,” Puckett said. “However, our findings suggest some bias that skews the process toward vertebrates.”

The Effects of Listing Times

These long wait times can have catastrophic effects on the species survival. Some species go extinct before they get listed. Some swiftly-listed species recover and are delisted before other species get listed at all. Swift listing of a species as endangered affects successful species recovery and even later delisting.

Often, biologists lament the ‘cute’ factor when trying to save a species — IE it’s easier to get an eagle listed than a worm. Zoos, bastions of captive breeding, often focus on attractive animals that visitors enjoy watching. The Arabian oryx exemplifies this phenomena. This oryx went extinct in the wild, but zoos managed to breed sufficient quantities to release them back into their natural environment. The re-introduced oryx survived and bred – establishing several stable populations. So cuteness influences how much money, time and effort people put into saving a species. But according to the new review from UofM of the Endangered Species listing, cuteness seems less important than being perceived as a higher life-form.

Herd of Arabian oryx an Endangered Species

Zoo breeding programs saved the Arabian oryx.


Nothing is without political influence in America. A local natural resource affects the difficulty of listing a plant or animal on the Endangered Species List. Sometimes, lumber companies, mining companies and developers pressure Fish and Wildlife Services to delist a species early. The Fish and Wildlife Services must determine if delisting a particular plant or animal will lead to the recently recovered species from becoming endangered again.

It’s not difficult to see the prejudice of the Fish and Wildlife Service. On their website, they list the endangered species in the exact order that the authors from UofM cite. Low-wait-time species appear on the left moving category by category to longer-wait-time species to the right. Many factors affect whether a species category moves from Threatened to Endangered. Influential factors include whether their habitat is threatened, speed of population drop, long reproduction times, diseases, and man-caused pressure etc. – but is cuteness also a factor? Do you think the long-eared bat is cuter than the parachute penstemon and should that affect our conservation efforts?

Froggie Factoids:

  • Scientific name of the long-eared bat – Myotis septentrionalis
  • Scientific name of the parachute penstemon – Penstemon debilis
  • Scientific name of the Arabian oryx – Oryx leucoryx
  • There are still six times more Arabian oryx in zoos (6000-7000) than in the wild (1000+)
  • Long-eared bats are insectivores eating flying insects such as moths, flies, leafhoppers, caddisflies, and beetles.

Read More on Endangered Species legislation

Sources: Fish and Wildlife Services, University of Missouri, Scientific American

Photo Sources: Discover Life ,Colorado Canyon Wilderness, Biosphere Expeditions,

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