Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, February 19, 2020


Sarah Uhlemann, (206) 327-2344,

Lawsuit Forces Trump Administration Action on Emperor Penguins

WASHINGTON— In an agreement filed in federal court today, the U.S. government promised to determine whether to propose Endangered Species Act protections for beloved but imperiled emperor penguins by July 2021.

The agreement was prompted by the Center for Biological Diversity’s lawsuit against the Trump administration last July for failing to consider penguin protections.

“We won’t let emperor penguins be another casualty of the extinction crisis,” said Sarah Uhlemann, international program director at the Center. “The Trump administration wants to pretend the climate crisis doesn’t exist, but here in the real world, emperor penguins need and deserve the fullest protection. We can’t let these iconic, incredible animals disappear.”

Emperor penguins, found only in Antarctica, are gravely threatened by climate change. They need reliable sea ice to breed and raise their chicks. Entire emperor penguin colonies have already been lost in areas where sea ice is disappearing or breaking up early.

"Emperor penguins are as vulnerable and important a symbol for the effects of climate change in Antarctica as polar bears are for the Arctic,” said Frans Lanting, a renowned wildlife photographer and a standing declarant in today’s lawsuit. Lanting authored Penguin, a book of now-iconic images of emperor penguins.

A new scientific paper concludes that, without strong action to combat climate change, 81% of the world’s emperor penguins will be gone by the century’s end. Yet hope remains: If nations meet the Paris Climate Agreement’s 1.5 degrees Celsius climate target, the penguins will suffer only a 31% decline, with the population stabilizing by the end of the century.

In 2011 the Center filed a legal petition requesting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service list emperor penguins as endangered. In 2014 the agency agreed that the emperor penguin may be endangered from climate change but failed to move forward on protections. The Center sued, and today’s agreement commits the Service to either propose protections or deem listing not warranted within a year and half.

If emperor penguins are protected as endangered, the Endangered Species Act requires federal agencies to ensure that their actions do not jeopardize the penguins or their habitat. These actions include generation of large volumes of carbon pollution and contribution to overfishing of krill, an important penguin food source.

Last week the Center announced a new plan to combat the global extinction crisis. Without action the United Nations predicts 1 million species will go extinct in the next few decades. The Center’s plan calls for $100 billion investment to save species, including $20 billion to recover species protected under the Endangered Species Act, and the creation of 500 new national parks, wildlife refuges and marine sanctuaries, among other actions.

Emperor penguins by Michael Van Woert, NOAA.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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