North America is a huge and diverse continent, spanning many thousands of miles. This variation in climates and biomes has allowed a wealth of interesting and unique species to flourish across the ancient landscape, many millions of years before humans arrived on the scene – let alone modern European settlers. But today, the National Parks represent some of the only land left untouched by humans. Therefore, they have also become sanctuary to some of the rarest animals in the world. In an anthropocentric extinction event like we are currently experiencing, it is important that the world’s biodiversity is treasured and protected by institutions such as National Parks. So, these then, are just a few extremely rare animals that may or may not face extinction soon – but for now, live in North America’s national parks.
The Ozark Hellbender
Ozark Hellbenders are a species of aquatic salamander, that lives exclusively in Arkansas and Northern Missouri. They live in cool, clear streams where they shelter under dark rocks for the vast majority of their 30-year life span. Hellbenders breath entirely through their mottled brown skin, which sucks oxygen out of the water. Thus, they are extremely vulnerable to sedimentary change (due to climate change) or pollution as a direct result of human activity.
They are also susceptible to infection by the Chytrid Fungus, which has been wiping out amphibian populations all over the world for a couple of decades now. Biologists estimate their may be as few as a thousand of these two-feet-long swimmers left in the wild today.
Hawaiian Monk Seals
Around 88 endangered species live in Hawaii’s Kalaupapa National Historical Park, making it one of the most concentrated areas for rare animals in the world. One of the foremost of these is the Hawaiian Monk Seal. Being so far from the nearest continental land mass, native large mammals are extremely rare on Hawaii – in fact, only two species were known to live here before the arrival of people. These were the Monk Seal and Hawaiian Hoary Bat, which is now also endangered.
The earless Monk Seals are considered extremely endangered, with only 1400 or so left in the wild – and many of them at risk of habitat encroachment. They’re called Monk Seals because of the ring of wispy hairs on their head, which 19th century explorers considered to look like a monk.
Once common in the Pacific North-West of the USA, the cat-like Pacific Fisher made its home in the dense cedar and pine forests found there. However, intensive logging and urban development has driven them from their homelands and they are now rarely found outside the Yosemite National Park in California and the Olympic National Park in Washington.
One survey in Washington in the 1990s did not find a single fisher in the state area, although they have since been reintroduced into national parks. The fisher is a nocturnal mammal, most closely related to the weasel – and despite the name – they rarely actually eat fish.