33 Unusual Majors Your College Probably Didn't Offer

kasto80/iStock via Getty Images
kasto80/iStock via Getty Images

As about 150 million college students around the world make their way to campus this month—including approximately 19.9 million in the U.S. alone—they’ll be faced with the dreaded question that haunts all coeds throughout their academic careers: “What’s your major?”

While approximately one-third of undergraduates will begin their careers as “Undeclared,” the majority of incoming freshmen have a very firm idea of where their professional futures lie. And it’s not always in a traditional occupation. From beer to bowling and pot to pop culture, here are 33 strange college majors.

1. THE BEATLES

The College: Liverpool Hope University

Just because you think you’ve deciphered the meaning of “I Am the Walrus” doesn’t make you an expert on the Fab Four. But earning an M.A. in The Beatles, Popular Music & Society can go a long way to upping your Liverpool street cred. Established in 2009, the program explores the role popular music has played over the past 50 years, using The Beatles as a case study. Not surprisingly, you’ll need to travel to the band’s birthplace—sometimes called “The World Capital City of Pop”—to do it. Also not surprisingly: The program is the only one of its kind in the world.

2. CANNABIS CULTIVATION

The College: Oaksterdam University

Leave it to California to open the country’s first cannabis college. Then again, considering the thriving—and legal—industry that exists for medicinal marijuana in The Golden State, it really only makes sense that there would be a trade school for the cannabis industry. And one where classes in the history, politics, and legalities of herb are taught alongside seminars on growing and methods of ingestion. But don’t be surprised if your classroom time gets interrupted by a raid by the Feds; that’s exactly what happened in April of 2012, when a bevy of DEA, IRS, and U.S. Marshals Service agents showed up on the school’s doorstep.

3. COMEDY

The College: Humber College

Think you’re funny? Whip out your diploma and prove it. Toronto’s Humber College takes its laughs seriously with its Comedy: Writing and Performance program, aimed at helping sort of funny people become really funny people by perfecting their comedic timing and understanding of how the funny business works, utilizing a faculty of working comedians and putting on weekly shows at the nearby Yuk Yuk’s Comedy Club and an industry showcase at Second City—all in the name of making it big in stand-up, improv, sketch comedy and/or screenwriting. 

4. FERMENTATION SCIENCES

The College: Appalachian State University

As tempted as one might be to call this a degree in beer-making, there’s a lot more to a career in suds than cracking open a cold one. The official description of this B.S. is “an interdisciplinary degree within the College of Arts and Sciences intended to provide students with a strong background in chemistry and biology and a considerable focus in business, marketing, and entrepreneurial principles.” Hands-on experience comes courtesy of the Ivory Tower Brewery, an on-campus, nonprofit brewery and plant managed by the school’s students and faculty. We’ll drink to that! 

5. SEXUALITY

The College: San Francisco State University

A career in sex doesn’t have to come with an X rating. The M.A. degree at SFSU is an academic program more than five decades in the making, where students immerse themselves in a wide range of topics surrounding human sexuality, from its representation in arts and literature to social justice for sexual minorities. It’s academia at its most titillating.

6. VITICULTURE and ENOLOGY

The College: Cornell University

College-age connoisseurs who know the difference between a Zinfandel (good) and a White Zinfandel (bad) might be ripe for a career in wine—an industry where demand is outgrowing the supply of qualified professionals to oversee the vineyards that produce the best vino and manage the wineries that sell them. Translation: job security, kiddos! While Cornell students will face the unique challenges of growing grapes and making wine in a northeastern U.S. climate, the schooling they get in soils, pests, grape varietals, and growing markets can be easily translated to any of the world’s wine countries (and make the job that much easier).

7. DECISION SCIENCES

The College: Indiana University

A Ph.D in Decision Sciences is really the antithesis of being “undecided,” with doctoral candidates at IU amassing expertise in a range of quantitative methods in order to make business decisions at the highest level. These aren’t yes or no questions we’re dealing with; graduates emerge with the skills to apply research, data and analysis to solve problems in a range of precise disciplines, from finance to information technology.

8. POPULAR CULTURE

The College: Bowling Green State University

And you thought all those hours spent binge-watching Arrested Development had no professional merit! The official pitch for BGSU’s B.A. is that “By examining television programs, movies, cars, houses, music, museums, celebratory events, holidays, magazines and many other manifestations of culture, insights can be used to examine society presently and historically.” On a more practical level, students can parlay their studies into a career in journalism, mass media, advertising, or public relations. 

9. FLORAL MANAGEMENT

The College: Mississippi State University

Running a flower shop isn’t as easy as Janet made it look on Three’s Company, what with all the sourcing, purchasing, marketing, merchandising and selling that’s required. Floral Management students at MSU get an up-close look at what a career in floral retail, wholesale, design, styling or display gardening feels and smells like, courtesy of The University Florist, an on-campus flower shop owned and operated by the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences.

10. AUCTIONEERING

The College: Harrisburg Area Community College

Do I hear 20 credits? A first step toward becoming a licensed auctioneer in the state of Pennsylvania is completing the Auctioneering program at HACC, where students develop an eye for procuring the best merchandise for auction, utilizing the best appraisal sources and techniques, and developing that all-important auction “chant.” Going once, going twice…

11. POULTRY SCIENCE

The College: Texas A&M

As Jim Perdue would tell you, it takes a tough man (or woman) to make a tender chicken. Hence the need for an education in the science of poultry, where academics, research, and service play equally important parts in a career in this major agricultural commodity. The program’s wide-ranging curriculum includes courses in biology, chemistry, and zoology and such service-oriented topics as mathematics, public speaking, and technical writing. Bonus points for determining once and for all which came first, the chicken or the egg?

12. ENTERTAINMENT ENGINEERING & DESIGN

The College: University of Nevada, Las Vegas

A keen understanding of casino game design and engineering is as essential to the people who design the games in Vegas as it is to the pros who try to beat them. Which makes it all the more appropriate that Sin City is the setting for this B.S. degree, which educates students on both the art and business of the entertainment industry, from venue design and rigging to biomechanics and animatronics. Plus, students are never too far from a casino in which to ply their trade.

13. TURF AND GOLF COURSE MANAGEMENT

The College: University of Maryland

Golf courses require a lot of upkeep, so UMD offers a plant science degree in Turf and Golf Course Management to help train the greenskeepers of the future. The B.S. program requires a bit of biology and chemistry, but there are also more enticing classes like “Weed Science” and “Pest Management Strategies for Turfgrass.” One can only hope that the latter class includes a screening of Caddyshack

14. TURFGRASS SCIENCE

The College: Penn State University

For opportunities beyond the local country club, the more generalized B.S. in Turfgrass Science prepares students for careers in professional lawn care, sod production, athletic field maintenance, and beyond. Though the degree may sound like a walk in the park, courses lean toward the science side of the equation (biology, chemistry, and meteorology are required courses).

15. FAMILY ENTERPRISE

The College: Stetson University

Countless entrepreneurs have been warned about the dangers of doing business with friends—but family? That’s another story. Some of today’s biggest corporate success stories—including The Gap, Walmart, Ford, and Motorola—are technically “family businesses.” In DeLand, Florida, Stetson’s Family Enterprise Center has been teaching students the right (and wrong!) ways to mix business with relatives since 1998. Topics of interest include personal, professional and leadership development and legal, estate and asset protection.

16. CANADIAN STUDIES

The Colleges: Duke University; Johns Hopkins University; SUNY Plattsburgh; University of Vermont

Canada looms large and expansive just north of the United States, but most of us are pretty uneducated about what the heck goes on there. Students who want to learn more about our neighbors to the north can absorb the culture, politics, and history of Canada through a Canadian Studies major at one of several universities. This sounds like possibly the only major in which there’s a slight chance you’ll have to watch Strange Brew as part of your coursework, unless you design your own Rick Moranis Studies major. 

17. EGYPTOLOGY

The College: Brown University

We’re pretty sure that all of the great pyramids have been discovered, but on the off chance that there’s still a sphinx or two waiting to be stumbled upon, would-be Indiana Joneses would do well to have a degree in Egyptology. Established in 2005, Brown’s Department of Egyptology and Ancient Western Asian Studies—which offers B.A. and Ph.D degrees—brings students back to the birthplace of Western civilization as we know it with “Introduction to Classical Hieroglyphic Egyptian Writing and Language” and “Archaeology and the Ancient World” among their required courses.

18. JAZZ STUDIES

The Colleges: University of North Texas, East Carolina University & University of Louisville

For whatever reason, jazz seems to inspire college music departments to start majors more than its fellow musical genres. A number of colleges around the country offer degree programs in jazz studies. These programs usually include both playing jazz and studying its history, cultural significance, and major figures. 

19. BASSOON

The College: The University of Arizona

After completing the basic requirements for a bachelor’s degree in instrumental studies, students at UA’s School of Music choose their melodic weapon of choice. And for some would-be musicians, that means a bassoon—that 19th-century woodwind that mimics the sound of a male baritone so well and plays prominently in a number of orchestral and chamber music ensembles.

20. PIANO PEDAGOGY

The College: Belmont University

It may seem odd, since so many folks took their childhood piano lessons from someone who didn’t have collegiate training, but the B.Mus degree at Nashville’s Belmont University doesn’t sound like a bad career move from a stability standpoint; moms forcing their kids to take piano lessons is an economy-resistant tradition. Want to take that education one step further? The University of Oregon in Eugene offers advanced graduate degrees in the discipline. 

21. BOWLING INDUSTRY MANAGEMENT AND TECHNOLOGY

The College: Vincennes University

Being a pin monkey may be Homer Simpson’s unreachable dream, but you can make it your reality at Indiana’s first college, which offers the country’s only program in Bowling Industry Management and Technology. Required classes for this A.S. degree include “Lane and Pinsetter Maintenance,” “Pro Shop Operations and Essentials” and “Responsible Alcohol Service.” The program’s site proudly touts its facilities, including an 18-lane bowling center that acts as a laboratory for students to gain hands-on experience.

22. COSTUME TECHNOLOGY

The College: DePaul University

Much like film editors are to the movies, costume designers are the unsung heroes of the theater—the people upon whom the audience (unknowingly) relies to take them into a fantasy world. Needless to say, there’s a science to this talent that goes far beyond a flair for fashion. Costume Technology majors within DePaul’s Theatre School will explore the world of costuming from a variety of disciplines, from art and architecture to ethics and business management. Draping, cutting and designing are, of course, part of the package, too. 

23. DIVING BUSINESS & TECHNOLOGY

The College: Florida Keys Community College

It’s the dream of many a beach bum to spend their days carting tourists around and showing off the undiscovered corners of their waterfront worlds. James E. Lockwood Jr. School of Diving in Key West can get you one knot closer to this goal with an A.A.S. curriculum that merges diving science with instruction, leading the way to a thriving—and oh-so-freeing—career as a dive master, scuba instructor, commercial diver, water-based medical technician, research diver or underwater photojournalist. 

24. FAMILY and CONSUMER SCIENCE

The College: Liberty University

This bachelor’s degree path at the Lynchburg, Virginia school that was founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell in 1971 sounds an awful lot like home economics. According to the school’s website, “The Department of Family and Consumer Sciences teaches students the values, knowledge and skills necessary to be proactive in strengthening the contemporary family. The goal of Family and Consumer Sciences is to enable individuals and families to function as healthy units in the larger society.” Classes like “Balancing Work and Family” and “Family Economic Decisions” sound like helpful bits of life advice but aren’t quite what we’re used to thinking about in the classroom. 

25. ECOGASTRONOMY

The College: University of New Hampshire

In 2008, UNH launched a dual major in EcoGastronomy, a program that educates students on how food gets from farms to their plates. With an eye toward sustainability, pupils study food at a number of steps along the road to their mouth to gauge the ecological impact of what they eat. EcoGastronomy students will also pick up knowledge about the hospitality industry, nutrition and agriculture in this major. And will undoubtedly get to sample a ton of tasty fresh foods.

26. PACKAGING

The College: Michigan State University

MSU’s School of Packaging offers B.S., M.S. and Ph.D programs. What does the School of Packaging study? Exactly what it sounds like: all sorts of packaging in an effort to improve functionality and environmental impact. Since we’re unlikely to revert to a system in which goods are sold loose without packages any time soon, this major might lead to a steady career.

27. EQUINE STUDIES

The College: Becker College

If you like horses, why not major in them? Several colleges offer degree programs in studying horses, each with its own focus. Some programs, like this one at Becker College in Worcester, MA, offer students the choice of concentrating in riding instruction so that they can eventually teach lessons. Other programs, like the one at the University of Maryland, forgo saddling up in favor of preparing students for scientific horse study or working on the business side of the equine industry. 

28. BAKERY SCIENCE

The Colleges: Kansas State University & Hesston College

Smelling like a loaf of fresh-baked bread might just be the most brilliant way to make new friends. Modern commercial baking relies pretty heavily on science to achieve consistency and efficiency, and this major teaches prospective bakers and managers the cereal science, microbiology and milling expertise they’ll need to run a successful bakery.

29. THEME PARK ENGINEERING

The College: California State University Long Beach

California State University offers a fun twist on electrical engineering with its B.S. in Theme Park Engineering, which readies students for careers in the theme park and amusement industries, where they’ll meld elements of electrical, civil and mechanical engineering to learn the critical specifics of electrical power, hydraulics and pneumatic controls. 

30. NANNYING

The College: Sullivan University

Ready to take that part-time gig watching your younger siblings to the professional stage? The Professional Nanny Program at Sullivan University in Louisville, Kentucky has been turning babysitters into early childhood education professionals for nearly 25 years now with a 12-month diploma program that teaches essentials like CPR, First Aid and Water Safety plus the fun stuff, like etiquette and manners, effective communication (with parents and children) and party planning.

31. COMIC ART

The College: Minneapolis College of Art and Design

Master the serious art of storytelling, while studying the use of line, color, and composition, as well as character development, storyboarding and plot. In other words: become the next Stan Lee with this BFA program from the world-renowned Minneapolis College of Art and Design, with a dual emphasis on the history of comic art and individual, experimental expression.

32. GUNSMITHING

The College: Lassen Community College

An unsurprising fact about the Gunsmithing school at LCC in Susanville, California is that it was founded in 1945. A surprising fact about the Gunsmithing school at LCC in Susanville, California is that it is still a thriving academic endeavor. But its specialties aren’t as archaic as they sound. The NRA-affiliated program—the oldest in the U.S.—offers A.S. degrees in Firearms Repair and General Gunsmithing, with “Basic Machine Shop,” “Barreling” and “Engraving” among the course offerings.

33. PUPPETRY

The College: University of Connecticut

Like something out of a Spike Jonze movie, puppetry has been an academic specialty of UConn since 1964, when master puppeteer Frank W. Ballard—who passed away in 2010 and for whom an on-campus museum is named—first started teaching classes. In the five decades since the subject’s introduction, the school has put on nearly 500 puppet productions, with graduates of the BFA, MFA and MA programs going on to design and perform for some of the world’s best-known theaters, television shows, film studios, schools, museums and beyond. 

25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog

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iStock.com/Manuel-F-O

According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. Here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

1. Adopting a dog means you won't be supporting puppy mills.

A closeup of a dog's nose sticking out from between green bars.
iStock

If you go to a pet store or to a disreputable breeder to buy that adorable puppy, it's entirely possible that it's from a puppy mill, where dogs are kept in terrible conditions. By adopting a rescue, you can help lower the demand for puppies from puppy mills.

2. You can find almost any breed you want.

A beagle puppy standing on a stone walkway.
iStock

Is your heart set on a specific breed? There's a wide network of breed-specific rescues out there. Just spend a little time online and you can get the dog of your dreams without resorting to buying from puppy mills.

3. Shelter dogs are eager to follow your lead.

A woman holding up her finger to a dog.
iStock

A 2016 study that appeared in Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research analyzed problem solving in dogs in homes (what they called "pet dogs") versus shelter dogs. The researchers found that although pet dogs are better at following human pointing, shelter dogs "seem to be more socially driven to gaze and interact with humans" when compared with pet dogs, which they say is likely due to the shelter dogs' "generally limited and poor-quality contact with humans." But the researchers also pointed out that with increased human exposure, the shelter dogs were trainable.

4. A rescue dog might help you get a date.

Two people from the knees down standing close together with a black and white dog between them.
iStock

According to Slate, one survey found that "82 percent of people [felt] more confident approaching an attractive person if they had their dog with them." Another study cited by Slate found that in the modern world of dating apps, people with dogs look more approachable and happy than those who are dogless.

5. You can share your audiobook collection with them.

A young girl reads a book to her Pomeranian.
iStock

There have been several studies on the best ways to calm dogs in kennels [PDF]. Classical music seems to work well, but a 2016 study found that compared to other "auditory conditions," kenneled dogs were more relaxed while audiobooks were playing. Cesar Milan then did his own tests and found that 76 percent of his volunteer dogs were more relaxed at home while listening to audiobooks—and teamed up with Audible to create a specialized audiobook service. Just be careful: soon your rescue pup will be better read than you.

6. Rescue dogs can transform in dramatic ways in a forever home.

A happy dog with his tongue out sitting in a field of flowers.
iStock

Thanks to those heart-wrenching ASPCA/Sarah McLachlan commercials, everyone is familiar with how sad a dog can appear in a shelter. But once adopted, dogs' attitudes can change dramatically. In 2008, Italian researchers published a paper about a shelter dog named Daisy that they placed into a facility for people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Although in the shelter Daisy had groomed so much that she developed a skin lesion, in the six months that she lived at the facility, her over-grooming lessened, she was healthy, and she "displayed no aggressive or sexual behavior, even when in heat." And the calming effect seemed to go both ways: the researchers reported, the people in the facility experienced "many positive effects of Daisy's presence."

7. Shelter pets come with benefits.

A dog running through the grass with an orange ball in its mouth.
iStock

Whether you get your pet at a breed-specific rescue or from a normal shelter, you'll often have access to resources about your fuzzy new family member, and maybe even classes on how best to take care of them.

8. Shelter dogs are typically up-to-date on all their shots.

A vet giving a shot to a golden retriever puppy.
iStock

Depending on the shelter, shelter dogs may already be vaccinated and microchipped (or the shelter will perform these services for a small fee)—which means you can get straight to cuddling your new pet instead of making vet appointments.

9. Shelter dogs may also already be spayed or neutered.

A vet looking into a dog's ear.
iStock

More than half of states have laws requiring "releasing agencies" (a.k.a. shelters) to spay or neuter dogs they adopt out. While the pet sometimes isn't fixed until you adopt it, frequently it's already been spayed or neutered. Check with your local adoption center.

10. By adopting a dog, you're helping to keep the unwanted pet population down.

A lazy bulldog lying on a rug.
iStock

If you happen to adopt a dog that isn't fixed, you can still help prevent pet overpopulation (especially in the wild) by keeping it in the house and away from other unfixed dogs of the opposite sex. (But seriously, get your pets fixed!)

11. Rescue dogs may be easier to housetrain.

A small dog holding a leash in its mouth.
iStock

Many adult shelter dogs are already housebroken when you adopt them. But because the dog may have a history that prevented such training (such as never being allowed inside the house), you shouldn't go in expecting a house-trained pet. If your new pupper isn't house-trained, there are resources out there that can help you reach that goal; many say that adult dogs have an easier time getting the hang of it.

12. Adopt and older dog and you can skip the puppy stage.

A dachshund puppy plays with a shoe outside in grass.
iStock

Yes, puppies are adorable. They're also full of energy and require a lot of time, training, attention, and patience. It can be tough to fit an energetic puppy into a hectic life. Adopting an older dog from a shelter allows you to skip the puppy stage altogether, which can mean an easier transition from not having a pet to being a pet owner. It also (hopefully) means you may avoid having your slippers, running shoes, pillows, furniture, and doors gnawed on by sharp little puppy teeth.

13. If you adopt an older dog, you'll have a better idea of their temperament.

An older dog sitting in the grass with his tongue sticking out.
iStock

An analysis of many studies found that the "personality" of an adult dog is fairly consistent. Puppies, on the other hand, can change personality a fair amount, especially when it comes to "responsiveness to training, fearfulness, and sociability." So by getting an adult dog, you have a better idea of what the animal's personality is truly like.

14. A shelter can help match you with a dog that best reflects your personality.

A red haired woman holding a white dog, both laughing.
iStock

Because adult dogs are generally more fixed in their personalities, many adoption centers have matching programs that help the process of pairing dog and human. The ASPCA claims the programs have dramatically improved successful adoptions at some shelters.

15. You'll feel more involved in the community.

A businessman walking his dog and talking to another dog owner.
iStock

According to a 2013 study, dog owners over 50 who walked their dogs felt a higher sense of community. So adopting a dog can help you connect to your neighbors.

16. A dog can improve your health.

Woman working on her computer getting a kiss on the face from her dog.
iStock

A study of Mexican dog owners versus non-dog owners found that the dog owners felt that they were healthier: "Compared to non–dog owners, the dog owners' scores were significantly lower for psychosomatic symptoms and stress and were higher for general health, vitality, emotional role, absence of bodily pain, social functioning, and mental health."

17. Your kids will play more if you have a dog.

A group of kids petting a dog.
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It's not just adults who experience health benefits from having a dog; another study found that child dog walkers played outside more and were more likely to walk in the neighborhood.

18. Adopting a pet helps small wild animals.

A dog looking for a squirrel up in a tree, but the squirrel is on the other side of the tree.
iStock

As one of the most common predators in human areas, dogs can easily do great harm to local wildlife. By keeping dogs out of the wild (whether that's the city or the countryside), you can help reduce the numbers of truly wild animals that are preyed upon by what are supposed to be pets.

19. Adopting a dog can limit the spread of disease.

A yellow lab staring up at the camera.
iStock

Feral dogs can also have disastrous effects on wild animals in regards to disease. For instance, the black-footed ferret was nearly driven to extinction by canine distemper. By keeping dogs out of the environment and up-to-date on all their necessary shots and vaccinations, adopters help many other animals, too.

20. You could have a movie star on your hands.

A dog wearing a bowtie, standing behind a slate for a movie.
iStock

A surprising number of actual canine movie stars came from shelters. The original Benji was adopted from a shelter; Rudy, one of the 22 dogs that played Marley in the film Marley and Me, was just 24 hours away from being put down before he was rescued; and Spike, the star of Old Yeller, was adopted from Van Nuys Animal Shelter, supposedly for $3.

21. A rescue dog might have experience living in a home, making the move from shelter to your home an easier transition.

A dog on its back on a carpet.
iStock

Some shelters have foster programs, where the dog is sent out to live with a volunteer in an actual house. Not only does this give the dog a chance to be away from the shelter, but it gives the humans looking after the pup a chance to see how the dog reacts in a less controlled environment—hopefully making the future forever home transition easier.

22. Even volunteering to foster has its benefits.

A woman walking a dog in the park.
iStock

If you're not quite ready to adopt, consider fostering, which has a number of benefits for you and for the dogs you're housing. According to one researcher, overweight participants in a "loaner" dog walking program lost an average of 14 pounds because they felt "the dogs need us to walk them." Other participants in a community dog walking program were inspired to increase their exercise even when they weren't walking dogs.

23. You can help shelters modernize.

A chihuahua sitting on a cushion in an animal shelter.
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Shelters across the country are modernizing their facilities—which can sometimes be a very expensive prospect. The adoption fee you pay to the shelter to take your dog home will help the facility get the resources to give future dogs a better shelter experience.

24. By adopting a dog, you're saving at least one life.

A happy dog with its tongue sticking out lying on flowers.
iStock

By giving a dog in a shelter a second chance, you can make sure it has a great life.

25. In reality, you're probably saving more than one life.

A dog running with a stick in its mouth; all four feet are off the ground.
iStock

By adopting a dog, you open up a space in the shelter that can be filled by another future pet. And by supporting your local shelter, you help their mission to save many more.

But remember, a pet of any kind is a massive commitment. Some estimate that "more than 20 percent of people who leave dogs in shelters adopted them from a shelter." And studies have found that much of the problem is people not knowing what they're getting into. So make sure that you have the time and energy to devote to a pet, and do your research before adopting.

This story has been updated for 2019.

25 Species That Have Made Amazing Comebacks

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iStock.com/guenterguni

Conservationists can't afford to become complacent. When it comes to rescuing endangered species, progress is an ongoing effort. Still, we can take comfort in the knowledge that many organisms once on the brink of extinction or endangerment have made tremendous comebacks with our help. Just look at what happened to these 25 plants and animals.

1. THE BALD EAGLE

close-up of a bald eagle
Sherrodphoto/iStock via Getty Images

For much of the 20th century, this American icon was in jeopardy. Habitat loss, hunting, and the widespread use of DDT—an insecticide that weakens avian eggshells—once took a major toll on bald eagles. By 1963, the species population in the lower 48 states had fallen from an estimated 100,000 individuals to just 417 wild pairs. To turn things around, the U.S. government passed a series of laws, including a 1973 ban on DDT that was implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These efforts paid off; today, approximately 10,000 wild breeding pairs are soaring around in the lower 48.

2. THE ARABIAN ORYX

an arabian oryx in the desert
Clendenen/iStock via Getty Images

The Arabian oryx is a desert antelope indigenous to the Middle East. Reckless hunting devastated the species, which became essentially extinct in the wild during the early 1970s. However, a few were still alive and well in captivity. So, in the 1980s, American zoos joined forces with conservationists in Jordan to launch a massive breeding program. Thanks to their efforts, the oryx was successfully reintroduced to the Arabian Peninsula, where over 1000 wild specimens now roam (with a captive population of about 7000).

3. THE GRAY WOLF

Gray wolf stalking prey in the snow
hkuchera/iStock via Getty Images

Even well-known conservationists like Theodore Roosevelt used to vilify America’s wolves. Decades of bounty programs intended to cut their numbers down to size worked all too well; by 1965, only 300 gray wolves remained in the lower 48 states, and those survivors were all confined to remote portions of Michigan and Minnesota. Later, the Endangered Species Act enabled the canids to bounce back in a big way. Now, 5000 of them roam the contiguous states.

4. THE BROWN PELICAN

Brown pelican
CarolinaBirdman/iStock via Getty Images

Louisiana’s state bird, the brown pelican, is another avian species that was brought down by DDT. In 1938, a census reported that there were 500 pairs living in Louisiana. But after farmers embraced DDT in the 1950s and 1960s, these once-common birds grew scarce. Things got so bad that, when a 1963 census was conducted, not a single brown pelican had been sighted anywhere in Louisiana. Fortunately, now that the era of DDT is over, the pelican is back with a vengeance on the Gulf Coast and no longer considered endangered.

5. ROBBINS’ CINQUEFOIL

Robbins' Cinquefoil
U.S.D.A. Forest Service, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Noted for its yellow flowers, Robbins’s cinquefoil (Potentilla robbinsiana) is an attractive, perennial plant that’s only found in New Hampshire’s White Mountains and Franconia Ridge. Collectors once harvested the cinquefoil in excessive numbers and careless backpackers trampled many more to death. In response, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service re-routed hiking trails away from the flower’s wild habitats. This, along with a breeding program, rescued the Robbins' cinquefoil from the brink of extinction.

6. THE AMERICAN ALLIGATOR

American alligator on a log
Joe Pearl Photography/iStock via Getty Images

With its population sitting at an all-time low, the American alligator was recognized as an endangered species in 1967. Working together, the Fish and -Wildlife Service and governments of the southern states took a hard line against gator hunting while also keeping tabs on free-ranging alligator populations. In 1987, it was announced that the species had made a full recovery [PDF].

7. THE NORTHERN ELEPHANT SEAL

Elephant seal winking
franksvalli/iStock via Getty Images

Due to its oil-rich blubber, the northern elephant seal became a prime target for commercial hunters. By 1892, some people were beginning to assume that it had gone extinct. However, in 1910, it was discovered that a small group—consisting of fewer than 100 seals—remained on Guadalupe Island. In 1922, Mexico turned the landmass into a government-protected biological preserve. From a place of security, that handful of pinnipeds bred like mad. Today, every single one of the 160,000 living northern elephant seals on planet Earth are that once-small group’s descendants.

8. THE HUMPBACK WHALE

humpback whale
miblue5/iStock via Getty Images

Did you know that the world’s humpback whale population is divided into 14 geographically-defined segments? Well, it is—and in 2016, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) informed the press that nine of those clusters are doing so well that they no longer require protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The cetaceans’ comeback is a huge win for the International Whaling Commission, which responded to dwindling humpback numbers by putting a ban on the hunting of this species in 1982. (That measure remains in effect.)

9. The Fin Whale

Fin whale near Greenland
Aqqa Rosing-Asvid—Visit Greenland, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Commercial whaling decimated global populations of fin whales, the second-largest species of baleen whale on Earth. In the 1970s, international coalitions banned fin whale hunting in the Southern Hemisphere and the North Pacific, and legal catches were reduced in the North Atlantic in the 1990. Though three countries—Norway, Iceland, and Japan—continue to hunt whales for oil and meat, the IUCN reported in 2018 that the fin whale population has doubled since the 1970s.

10. THE WHITE RHINO

White rhino adult and calf
Marcello Calandrini/iStock via Getty Images

Make no mistake: The long-term survival of Earth’s largest living rhino is still very uncertain because poachers continue to slaughter them en masse. Nevertheless, there is some good news. Like black-footed ferrets and northern elephant seals, white rhinos were once presumed to be extinct. But in 1895, just under 100 of them were unexpectedly found in South Africa. Thanks to environmental regulations and breeding efforts, more than 20,000 are now at large.

11. THE WILD TURKEY

two male wild turkeys
Lois_McCleary/iStock via Getty Images

It’s hard to imagine that these birds were ever in any real trouble, and yet they looked destined for extinction in the early 20th century. With no hunting regulations to protect them, and frontiersmen decimating their natural habitat, wild turkeys disappeared from several states. By the 1930s, there were reportedly fewer than 30,000 left in the American wilderness. Now, over 6 million are strutting around. So what changed? A combination of bag limits set by various agencies and an increase in available shrublands.

12. THE BLACK-FOOTED FERRET

black-footed ferret
USFWS Mountain-Prairie, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

North America’s only indigenous ferret is a prairie dog-eater that was written off as “extinct” in 1979. But the story of this animal took a surprising twist two years later, when a Wyoming dog gave a freshly dead one to its owner. Amazed by the canine’s find, naturalists soon located a wild colony. Some of these ferrets were then inducted into a breeding program, which helped bring the species’ total population up to over 1000.

13. THE CALIFORNIA CONDOR

portrait of a California condor
SumikoPhoto/iStock via Getty Images

Since 1987, the total number of California condors has gone up from 27 birds to about 450, with roughly 270 of those being wild animals (according to a 2016 count by the FWS). With its 10-foot wingspan, this is the largest flying land bird in North America.

14. THE GOLDEN LION TAMARIN

two tamarins
Enjoylife2/iStock via Getty Images

A flashy orange primate from Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, the golden lion tamarin has been struggling to cope with habitat destruction. The species hit rock-bottom in the early 1970s, when fewer than 200 remained in the wild. A helping hand came from the combined efforts of Brazil’s government, the World Wildlife Federation, public charities, and 150 zoos around the world. There’s now a healthy population of captive tamarins tended to by zookeepers all over the globe. Meanwhile, breeding, relocation, and reintroduction campaigns have increased the number of wild specimens to around 1700—although urban sprawl could threaten the species with another setback. But at least the animal doesn’t have a PR problem: Golden lion tamarins are so well-liked that the image of one appears on a Brazilian banknote.

15. THE ISLAND NIGHT LIZARD

island night lizard
Ryan P. O'Donnell, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Native to three of California’s Channel Islands, this omnivorous, 4-inch reptile was granted federal protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1977. The designation couldn’t have come at a better time, as introduced goats and pigs were decimating the night lizard’s wild habitat in those days. But now that wild plants have been reestablished under FWS guidance, more than 21 million of the reptiles are believed to be living on the islands.

16. THE OKARITO KIWI

Small, flightless, island birds usually don’t fare well when invasive predators arrive from overseas. (Just ask the dodo.) New Zealanders take great pride in the five kiwi species found exclusively in their country, including the Okarito kiwi, which is also known as the Okarito brown or rowi kiwi. These animals have historically suffered at the hands of introduced dogs and stoats. But recently, there’s been some cause for celebration. Although there were only about 150 Okarito kiwis left in the mid-1990s, conservation initiatives have triggered a minor population boom, with about 400 to 500 adult birds now wandering about. Taking note of this trend, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has declared that the Okarito kiwi is no longer endangered.

17. THE BROWN BEAR

brown bear with three cubs
LuCaAr/iStock via Getty Images

Let’s clear something up: The famous grizzly bear technically isn’t its own species. Instead, it is a North American subspecies of the brown bear (Ursus arctos), which also lives in Eurasia. Still, grizzlies are worth mentioning here because of just how far they’ve come within the confines of Yellowstone National Park. In 1975, there were only 136 of them living inside the park. Today, approximately 700 of them call the place home. In 2018, the FWS delisted the Greater Yellowstone population grizzlies from Endangered Species Act protection, but reinstated them in July 2019 as "threatened" to comply with a Montana court ruling.

18. THE THERMAL WATER LILY

thermal water lily

With pads that can be as tiny as one centimeter across, the thermal water lily is the world’s smallest water lily. Discovered in 1985, it was only known to grow in Mashyuza, Rwanda, where it grew in the damp mud surrounding the area’s hot spring. Or at least it did. The thermal water lily seems to have disappeared from its native range. Fortunately, before the species went extinct in the wild, some seeds and seedlings were sent to London’s Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. There, horticulturalists figured out a way to make the lilies flower in captivity, and managed to saved the species.

19. THE PEREGRINE FALCON

Peregrine falcon
ca2hill/iStock via Getty Images

When a peregrine falcon dives toward its airborne prey, the bird-eating raptor has been known to hit speeds of up to 242 miles per hour. The species endured a plummet of a different sort when DDT dropped its population. In the first few decades of the 20th century, there were around 3900 breeding pairs in the United States. By 1975, the number of known pairs had been whittled down to 324. Things got better after the insecticide was banned, and according to the FWS, somewhere between 2000 and 3000 peregrine falcon pairs currently patrol the skies in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

20. PRZEWALSKI'S HORSE

Przewalski's horse in autumn field
Nemyrivskyi Viacheslav/iStock via Getty Images

There are a few different subspecies of wild horse, all of which are endangered. One variant is the Przewalski's horse (Equus ferus perzewalskii) from Mongolia. It completely vanished from that nation during the 1950s, but by then assorted zoos around the world had started breeding them. From 1992 to 2004, some 90 captive-born horses were released into Mongolia. They thrived and around 300 are living in their native habitat today, while other populations have been successfully introduced in Hungary and Russia (including in the Chernobyl exclusion zone).

21. THE NORTH AMERICAN BEAVER

North American beaver
webmink/iStock via Getty Images

No one knows how many hundreds of millions [PDF] of these buck-toothed rodents were living on the continent before European fur traders showed up. But after two centuries of over-trapping, spurred by the lucrative pelt trade, the number of North American beavers had shrunk to an abysmal 100,000 in 1900. Their fortunes reversed when restocking programs were implemented in the U.S. and Canada. Nowadays, somewhere between 10 and 15 million beavers live in those countries. Thanks to beaver's amazing landscaping talents, many property owners have come to see them (unfairly) as pests.

22. THE CAFÉ MARRON

Cafe Marron tree
Abu Shawka, Wikimedia Commons // CC0 1.0

Rodrigues Island in the Indian Ocean once gave biologists a chance to raise the (near) dead. This landmass is the home of a small tree with star-shaped flowers called the café marron. It was thought that the plant had long since died out when a single specimen was found by a schoolboy named Hedley Manan in 1980. As the only surviving member of its species known to humankind, that lone plant assumed paramount importance. Cuttings from the isolated café marron were used to grow new trees at England’s Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. Right now, there are more than 50 of these plants—and all of them can have their ancestry traced straight back to that one holdout tree.

23. THE WEST INDIAN MANATEE

Manatee with fish
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

A docile, slow-moving marine mammal with a taste for sea grasses, the Floridian subspecies of the West Indian manatee is a creature that does not react well to razor-sharp propellers. Collisions with boats are a significant threat, and the danger won’t go away altogether. Still, the passage of tighter boating regulations has helped the Sunshine State rejuvenate its manatee population, which has more than tripled since 1991.

24. THE BURMESE STAR TORTOISE

Burmese star tortoise
LagunaticPhoto/iStock via Getty Images

The pet trade did a number on these guys. Beginning in the 1990s, wildlife traffickers harvested Burmese star tortoises until they effectively became “ecologically extinct” in their native Myanmar. Luckily, conservationists had the foresight to set up breeding colonies with specimens who’d been confiscated from smugglers. The program started out with fewer than 200 tortoises in 2004; today, it has more than 14,000 of them. “Our ultimate objective is to have about 100,000 star tortoises in the wild,” Steve Platt, a herpetologist who’s been taking part in the initiative, said in a Wildlife Conservation Society video.

25. THE GIANT PANDA

panda in tree
DennisvandenElzen/iStock via Getty Images

Here we have it: the poster child for endangered animals everywhere … except that the giant panda is no longer endangered. In 2016, the IUCN changed its status from “endangered” to “vulnerable.” There’s still a chance that we could lose the majestic bamboo-eater once and for all someday, but the last few years have offered a bit of hope. Between 2004 and 2014, the number of wild pandas increased 17 percent. The welcome development was made possible by enacting a poaching ban and establishing new panda reserves. It’s nice to know that, with the right environmental policies, we can make the future brighter for some of our fellow creatures.

This story first ran in 2017.

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