Tuesday 18 June
Popular endangered species:
Endangered species fact file
- What is an endangered species?
- Conservation status
- Why are species endangered?
- What is being done to help?
- How can you help?
- Find out more
- Endangered species facts
What is an endangered species?
Endangered species are those considered to be at risk of extinction, meaning that there are so few left of their kind that they could disappear from the planet altogether. Endangered species are threatened by factors such as habitat loss, hunting, disease and climate change, and usually, endangered species, have a declining population or a very limited range.
The current rate of extinction is thought to be far greater than the expected natural rate, with many species going extinct before they have even been discovered. Shockingly, current estimates suggest that a third of the world’s amphibians, a quarter of all mammals and one in eight birds are endangered.
Endangered species usually have a small or declining population size or a very limited range, meaning factors such as habitat loss, hunting, disease or climate change could cause them to disappear completely within our lifetimes.
The alarming rate at which species are disappearing is something which should be a cause for concern for us all. Not only do they add beauty and wonder to the natural world, they are also of great global economic importance. A great diversity of species maintains the ecosystems essential to our existence by helping to regulate our climate and by providing:
- clean air and water
- building and clothing materials
- fertile soils
With so many species at risk of extinction, the ARKive project is working to help raise the public profile of the world's endangered species, through the emotive power of wildlife films and photos. The ARKive project hopes to engage people with the natural world. We will only succeed in rescuing species from the brink of extinction if people know about their plight, importance and value.
The conservation status of a species indicates how great the risk is of that species becoming extinct in the near future.
The most global and comprehensive system that determines the conservation status of each species is the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Species are assessed according to a number of different criteria, such as how many individuals there are and whether this number is in decline. They are then placed on a scale in one of the following categories:
- Extinct in the Wild
- Critically Endangered
- Near Threatened
- Least Concern
- Data Deficient
Any species which fall into the categories Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered are considered to be at risk of extinction. Of the nearly 60,000 species assessed so far, this equates to a staggering 20,222 species, from the majestic tiger to the enormous giant clam.
Why are species endangered?
Animals and plants face a large number of different threats with many of them being a direct result of human activity. Some of the most common threats include:
- Habitat loss and habitat fragmentation – The ever expanding human population constantly requires additional space and resources. Land is being cleared to harvest products such as timber as well as to make way for human settlement, agriculture and transport links.
- Hunting and poaching – A wide variety of animals have been hunted, or fished, beyond sustainable levels and now face possible extinction. Species, such as the tiger, are often hunted because they provide a resource such as food or parts which are used in traditional ‘medicine’. However, some species, such as the cheetah, have been persecuted after gaining a negative reputation for feeding upon livestock or crops or posing a threat to human safety.
- Invasive species – Humans have introduced non-native species (both intentionally and accidentally) to a wide variety of habitats, often with devastating consequences. Introduced species may prove highly adaptable and outcompete native species for resources. Introduced predators can decimate local species which are not adapted to avoid predation, for example ground dwelling birds like the kakapo.
- Climate change - Droughts, ocean acidification, the loss of sea ice and an increase in storms and extreme weather events can all threaten species’ survival. Sedentary species like plants or specialist species which inhabit small ranges or islands, or those with specific habitat requirements are particularly vulnerable.
- Disease – Small populations, especially those which are limited in terms of genetic diversity are particularly vulnerable to disease. Disease can often be spread by domestic animals or accidentally introduced by humans travelling from an affected area to one which had not previously been exposed.
- Collection / pet trade – Many animals and plants, such as the Venus flytrap, have been collected from the wild beyond sustainable levels to be sold through the pet trade or be kept in private horticultural collections.
- Pollution – Acid rain, heavy metals, pesticides, plastic waste and oil spills all harm the environment and put species at risk. Chemicals are particularly harmful to species that live in water.
What is being done to help endangered species?
Conservation aims to protect the natural world and sustain biodiversity by carefully preserving and managing existing habitats and restoring areas which have been damaged or degraded.
Species conservation can also take place outside a species’ natural habitat. For example, caring for an endangered animal in captivity, such as in a zoo, or preserving endangered plants through the use of seed banks.
In areas where humans and animals are competing for space or resources, particularly in poorer developing countries, it is important that conservation work takes into account the needs of local people and works alongside them in protecting their native species.
Some commonly used conservation actions are as follows:
- Habitat preservation – The ideal solution is to protect habitats before they are damaged. This can be achieved through the creation of national parks and marine protected areas. However, it is important to note that many larger species require extensive territories and designated protected areas may not be large enough to support them.
- Habitat restoration – Where a habitat has already been degraded it is sometimes possible to restore the habitat by carefully managing the land, removing invasive species and reintroducing native species that had been lost from the area. Some species are bred in captivity or relocated from other areas for this purpose.
- Ex-situ conservation – Many endangered species are bred in captivity to preserve their numbers and in some cases it is possible to reintroduce them to the wild. Some species, like the Golden arrow poison frog, have even been deliberately removed from the wild to protect them from the spread of disease and ensure that a small population is preserved. Plant species are often cultivated in nurseries and preserved via the use of seed banks.
- Anti-poaching measures – In remote areas guards are sometimes employed to protect endangered species, such as the mountain gorilla, from poachers. This can be a way of involving local communities in the protection of their wildlife whilst also providing some employment opportunities.
- Wildlife corridors – Where habitats have been fragmented by divisions such as roads, urban areas or farmland, populations become isolated and are unable to move throughout their natural range to find sufficient resources and mates. Wildlife corridors help to reconnect habitat fragments and maintain genetic diversity.
- Laws and policies – Some endangered species are protected by law or trade in them is restricted. CITES (The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) is an international agreement between governments to ensure that trade in wild animal and plant specimens does not threaten their survival.
How can you help?
As well as supporting conservation organisations there are some simple steps that everybody can take to help protect the natural world and the species in it. Here are some ideas:
- Recycle – Help protect the rainforests - recycling one tonne of paper can save 17 trees and preserve the habitat of a whole host of endangered species.
- Use less energy – An old tip but a good one, you can save yourself money and help the environment too. For example, energy saving light bulbs use 80 percent less energy than a standard bulb, yet produce the same amount of light.
- Choose sustainable products – Make sure that all the products you buy are sustainably sourced, from food and paper to timber.
- Make your voice heard – Petition for change! Many campaigns to help wildlife are underway but they need your support.
- Clean up your act – Volunteer to take part in a litter pick or beach clean up.
- Get involved – Taking part in wildlife surveys is a fantastic way to enjoy the great outdoors and find out more about your local wildlife. By assessing what species are present you can help scientists plan how best to protect them in the future.
- Spread the word – Through the ARKive project we hope to educate and engage people with the natural world. If you are enthusiastic about saving species then why not encourage your friends and family to learn more. Find out how you can get involved.
Find out more
Find out more about endangered species:
- CITES - www.cites.org
- Conservation International - www.conservation.org
- Fauna & Flora International - www.fauna-flora.org
- IUCN Red List - www.iucnredlist.org
- WWF - www.worldwildlife.org
Endangered species facts
- More snails and slugs (gastropods) are known to have become extinct than any other animal group (281 species).
- There are currently more endangered amphibians than any other animal group, a startling 1,900 species, which accounts for around 30 percent of all described amphibians.
- Turtles are among the world’s most endangered vertebrates, with about half of all turtle species threatened with extinction.
- One third of open ocean sharks are threatened with extinction. Scientists estimate that 26 - 73 million sharks are killed each year for the global fin trade.
- Coral reefs are thought to be home to one quarter of the world’s fish species and protect the coastlines of 109 countries. But approximately 75 percent of the world’s coral reefs are rated as threatened.
- The loneliest palm is probably the most endangered plant in the world, with only one individual remaining in the wild.
- The Abingdon Island tortoise is the rarest reptile in the world. Sadly only a single male of this species, ‘Lonesome George’, remains alive today.
- Many consider the Javan rhinoceros to be the most endangered mammal. With its recent extinction in Vietnam, less than 50 remaining individuals are confined to the Indonesian island of Java.
- Once thought to be the most endangered snake, the Antiguan racer population has increased from just 50 individuals in the mid-90s to over 500 today. Eradication of rats from their island homes, and a successful captive breeding and reintroduction programme mean that the Antiguan racer’s future is now looking much brighter.
- According to the IUCN Red List, there are more threatened species in Ecuador than any other country (2,265), which is greater than Brazil (784), the USA (1,214) and Indonesia (1,149).
- Conservation International has named 34 biodiversity hotspots which are most important to conserve. Although their combined area is just 2.3 percent of the Earth's land surface, over 50 percent of the world’s plant species and 42 percent of all terrestrial vertebrate species are endemic to these hotspots.
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