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Endangered species: fur, fins, and fame.

If you think celebrities don't have anything else to do but wear hip clothes and go to awards ceremonies, think again. Many stars have a soft spot for animals whose populations are slipping.

Take actors Pierce Brosnan and Tom Hanks. They're using their star status to produce public service announcements urging consumers to keep tuna "dolphin-safe."

Schools of tuna tend to swim below frolicking dolphins. Many fishermen throw nets over the dolphins in hopes of nabbing the tuna--often chasing, injuring or killing the dolphins in the process. Since 1990, tuna caught this way can't be sold in the United States. Cans are labeled "dolphin-safe," so shoppers can be sure.

In January, however, senators Ted Stevens (R-Ark.) and John Breaux (D-La ), introduced a bill in Congress that would severely weaken the dolphin protections. The bill would allow tuna caught in "dolphin-dangerous" nets to be sold once again in the U.S.--while keeping the "dolphin--safe" label.

"They're rendering the dolphin-safe label meaningless," Brosnan says. While no species of ocean dolphins are on the endangered list yet, conservationists like Brosnan and Hanks worry that dolphin populations could shrink drastically if the bills take effect.

Other stars--like Boy Meets World's Rider Strong and Brotherly Love's Matt Lawrence--have "adopted" specific endangered animals. Their cash pays for an animal's care and education efforts so people learn more about the species. "I'm an outdoors person, and I've always been obsessed with wolves," says Strong. "So I adopted one!" Lawrence adopted an endangered gorilla.

Why do these celebrities give a hoot about endangered animals? These days, the extinction rate is dangerously above normal--about 200 species die off each day. One-fourth of the world's known mammal species are either endangered or threatened, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

When one species disappears from an ecosystem--a web of plants and animals that depend on each other--the entire web could collapse. And people are part of many of Earth's ecosystems. For example, we rely on diverse populations of plants and animals for food and medicines.

Take a look at our charts and graphs to find out more about why species are threatened--and what you can do to help.
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Title Annotation:includes related information on endangered and threatened species and list of government contacts; celebrities who try to protect endangered species
Author:Allen, Laura
Publication:Science World
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Apr 11, 1997
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