Skip to Content

Endangered vs Threatened vs Extinct Species: Key Differences

What do we need to know about endangered vs threatened vs extinct species? Read on to see how our actions affect the environment and its inhabitants.

The earth is home to innumerable species of flora and fauna. Due to natural reasons and human activities, some species have become extinct, and others are gradually disappearing from the face of the earth. This piece will dig deeper to help you understand the species that are endangered vs threatened vs extinct.

How many endangered species are there in the world? In 2020, it was estimated that there are 41,415 species worldwide. Out of those, at least 16,306 are endangered species, meaning they are threatened with extinction. The number increased from 16,118 in 2019.

According to IUCN Red List endangered species statistics, this further indicates that the number of endangered, threatened, and extinct species keeps increasing. And if we don’t do something to save them, then in the next 500 years, thousands of species will have disappeared from the earth.

What is the Red List of Threatened Species?

Wild bengal tiger marking and smelling

The red list, also known as the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list, is a criterion used to evaluate the extinction and endangered crises of animal and plant species and subspecies. Founded in 1964, the IUCN Red List guides the exact status of biological diversity.

So, what is the difference between threatened and endangered species? And what does becoming extinct mean? So, to better understand the difference between endangered, threatened, and extinct, let’s explore their definitions.

See Related: Are Humans Animals? 15 Things to Know

Endangered vs Threatened vs Extinct: Definition

Closeup shot of deer grazing in the wilderness
  • Extinct meaning occurs when previously surviving plants and animal species completely disappear from the earth. Extinct species no longer exist and, sadly, may never return.
  • Endangered means: This is when living animals and plant species become so rare that they are in danger of extinction.
  • Threatened meaning: Occurs when plants and animal species are likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future, for a significant portion or throughout all its range.

How Extinction Happen

Volcanic eruption, lava, volcano

First, some huge changes in the earth’s condition have contributed to the collapse of living systems. For instance, natural occurrences like volcanic eruptions have made some species disappear.

But, while extinction is believed to be a natural evolutionary process occurring throughout life’s history, human beings are also largely to blame. The biggest cause of the extinction crisis is the activities of human beings. Even some natural disasters come as a result of human activities.

Some experts believe that most animals and plants became extinct when human beings began the colonization of the range of parts of the world.

Others say that the crises began around the 16th century when the human population grew and the per capita resource consumption levels increased in most parts of the globe.

Well, here are some of the few factors that are causing living plants and animals’ species to become extinct or threatened:

  • Pollution
Woman collecting garbage on the beach

Pollution plays a major role in species extinction or becoming threatened. When people use pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals inappropriately, they end up causing more harm than good. That’s why we have animals going into extinction due to pollution.

The bald eagle is a good example of how pollution has led to the extinction of some species. The bald eagle was among the near-threatened species because of the use of a pesticide called DDT.

Numerous farmers use this pesticide on their farms. After rains, it washed into streams and lakes, poisoning the fish and other marine life. The bald eagle then fed on the poisoned fish.

As a result, the eagles would lay eggs with thin shells that could easily crush them before hatching. This significantly reduced the number of bald eagles in existence. Luckily, the authorities banned DDT pesticides, removing bald eagles from the endangered species list.

Another species that has been threatened partly by pollution is the Nashville Crayfish in Tennessee. It had become endangered because people polluted the creek where it lives. The federal government now protects this species to avoid extinction.

  • Deforestation & Overpopulation
Trees cut, wooden log, smoke

In most cases, overpopulation leads to the deforestation of trees. This, in turn, leads to the destruction of habitats where most animals and plant species live.

For every species to survive, they need to be in certain habitats. For example, to survive, a cactus must be in desert areas with lots of sunlight. On the other hand, a polar bear cannot survive in such dry areas as it cannot get sufficient water and food.

When people ruin and occupy wildlife habitats, it reduces species’ survival necessities, including food, shelter, and sunlight, ultimately threatening their survival.

  • Eruption of Volcanoes
Volcano eruption on an island

Natural disasters have also contributed to the extinction of some species, as well as others getting on the endangered list. A good example is after the Ice Ages, the glaciers melted, warming the earth.

Many species became extinct because they could not survive a warm climate. Newer species that could live in warmer environments thrived.

See Related: Most Rare Flowers from Around the World

  • Species Migration and Trafficking
Giant Panda and cub

When people move species from one place to another, they endanger them. Some species can only survive in their native areas because of different factors, and they usually die when moved from that place.

According to CNN, the Pangolin is a classic example of the most trafficked creature. Every year, over 100,000 Pangolins are captured in the process.

Introducing new species in other areas may also endanger the species that originally lived there. These types of species are known as invasive species.

A perfect example of the effects of invasive species occurs when people introduce bigger fish into lakes and streams, preying on and eating the native fish.

For the native species to survive, they may have to search for a new habitat or face extinction.

  • Domesticating Wild Animals & Plants Species
Mission Blue Butterfly on a green plant

Domestication of wild species is another cause of extinction. By taking them from their wild habitats, people can unknowingly harm plants and animals.

For instance, some people catch insects such as the Mission Blue Butterfly to make them pets for tourism and other purposes. This reduces the species survival rate.

  • Poaching
White rhino in the rifle sight

Some people also illegally poach and hunt down wild animals like elephants, rhinoceros, reptiles, and antelopes for ivory, husks, fur, skins, or food.

For instance, many American crocodiles were hunted and killed for their skin, used in clothing and shoemaking. As a result, these crocodiles are now on the list of endangered species.

Thousands of elephants and Rhinos have also been killed for ivory and rhino horn. This makes them part of the threatened species, with some even becoming extinct, such as the white rhino male species. Check out our case study on rhino poaching and its effect on the species.

Can Anything Come Out of Extinction?

Giant panda eating

Well, it’s highly unlikely to revive an already extinct species. However, de-extinction is somewhat possible through cloning. This is done by extracting the nucleus from an extinct species’ well-preserved cell, which is then swapped into an egg.

The IUCN red list data shows that extinct species have all died, and none can be found in the wild or captivity. These IUCN global animal extinction facts indicate that about 800 species have been recorded as extinct in the last 400 years.

The data also reveal that different species of plants and animals are going into extinction due to pollution, deforestation, and even natural occurrences, which are rising due to climate change.

Some of the recently extinct species in 2020 include:

Animal species that became extinct:

  • Lost Shark
  • Splendid Poison Frog
  • Spined Dwarf Mantis
  • Chiriqui Harlequin Frog
  • Jalpa False Brook Salamander
  • Simeulue Hill Myna
  • Lake Lanao Fresh Water Fish
  • Smooth Handfish

Plant species that became extinct:

  • Agave lurida
  • Wolseley conebush
  • Alphonsea hortensis
  • Hawaii yellowwood
  • Golden Fuchsia

See Related: Most Endangered Plants Around the World

Why We Should Protect Endangered Species

Tiger sitting over a bridge with lush green habitat background

Can you picture walking in the forest without hearing the birds chirping? Or imagine being in an open field and finding no wildflowers blooming?

Our plants and animal species harmoniously make the world a very beautiful place. Almost all species depend on each other for survival. If some species disappear from the earth, this place might become unhabitable and even chaotic.

Humans mostly depend on almost all species for food, medicine, clothing, buildings, and inventions. If we don’t save these threatened and endangered species, we will limit what we would achieve if they were there.

Government agencies, corporations, and private individuals have all joined hands in species protection from extinction. And you and I also have roles that we can play to protect the threatened and endangered species – and maybe even save them.

Why protect the endangered species? Should we save animals from extinction? And, are there any benefits to it?

Certainly Yes! Here is why:

  1. Enjoyment of Future Generations

We cannot deny that we get lots of pleasure from interacting with and seeing different species of animals and plants. Why then deny future generations the same pleasure?

We don’t want them to learn of some species’ existence only through books and the internet, as we hear of dinosaurs. It will be so heartbreaking, right? For this reason, it’s important to be on the frontline in doing small and big acts that will help save the endangered species.

  1.  Environment and Other Species Survival
bee collecting nectar from flower

Nature is balanced, and one small change in the ecosystem can significantly affect everyone and everything.  The animals, plants, and people will suffer when one part of the key ecosystem players become extinct.

For example, bees are natural pollinators that help in plant reproduction. Imagine a world without bees! A lot of plant species would become extinct, which will affect the complete food chain.

Human beings will suffer even more as their source of food, medicine, raw materials for clothing, and shelter will be under threat. This means we have a huge responsibility to protect every species, no matter how small.

  1. For Medicinal Purposes

Human beings rely on nature, especially plants, to develop medicines. If we don’t do something to save endangered species, we will also be in danger, as there will be no potential for new drugs and cures that we have yet to invent or discover.

See Related: Are Humans Animals? Things to Know

How to Help Endangered Species

killer whale on the water surface

Every human has a role to play, and we can do many things to protect the globally threatened species. Here are some key points that show us how to protect animals in danger of extinction:

  • Protect Wildlife Habitats.

The biggest contributor to extinction is the loss of habitat. If everyone can do their bit in preserving and conserving the wildlife habitats, then we will have saved these species.

For example, people can volunteer to maintain natural reserves in their local area, reserve some space for nature in their garden, plant trees, avoid deforestation, etc.

  • Raise Awareness and Educate Others

Raising awareness about the protection of wildlife can help in a big way. People are more likely to desire to be part of species-saving campaigns and actions if they are fully aware of them and their purposes for the world.

Do some research and help spread the word as much as possible through different media forms, including blogs or YouTube channels. Also, consider buying sustainable living books for your friends to help them learn a thing or two about how they can get involved in the conservation of the environment.

The world has set aside observation of every third Friday of May each year as the National Endangered Species Day.

Today, everyone can learn and educate others about protecting endangered species. Also, during the day, people learn about wildlife and the actions that would help protect them.

  • Avoid or Reduce the Use of Herbicides and Pesticides

Another way to save animals and plant species is to reduce the use of pollutants. Animals are vulnerable to pollutant build-up and can even die from poisoning if consumed at high levels.

Some plants can also die if exposed to large amounts of herbicides.

  • Shop Ethical and Organic Items

Go for vegan, ethically, or sustainably produced items when shopping for anything from shoes to coffee mugs and even gifts. Reduce the usage of items likely to harm the animals or the environment during production or after use.

  • Be an Ethical Tourist.

Becoming an eco-traveler can also help protect animals and conserve the environment. Avoid the experiences that endanger different species or make animals get treated cruelly, whether doing local or international tourism.

See related: Reasons Why is Biodiversity Important to Ecosystems

Endangered vs Threatened vs Extinct: Species in the Brink of Extinction

Florida Manatee Under Water

How many threatened species are there? What animals are going extinct because of deforestation and other human activities?

Well, there are over 35,500 threatened species worldwide, according to the IUCN Red List data.  Around 40% are Amphibians, 34% conifers, 14% birds, 26% mammals, 33% coral reefs, 33% Sharks & rays, and 28% selected crustaceans.

Some threatened species are being discovered, and some that scientists never knew existed. Here are some of the endangered animal species at the risk of extinction:

  1. Black-footed Ferret or Mustela Nigripes

This ferret is a member of the weasel family and the only one native to North America. They have tan bodies, a black tip on their tail, black feet and legs, and a black mask.

These are highly specialized carnivores, and 90% of their meals come from prairie dogs. They are endangered species due to diseases and loss of habitat. The diseases result from the poisoning of prairie dogs.

This ferret has been thought to be extinct twice. But, recovery efforts such as captive breeding have seen them being reintroduced into the wild and escaping the brink of extinction.

Today, the IUCN red list indicates that we have around 300 to 400 black-footed ferrets in the wild. All these are descendants of the captive breeding efforts of 18 ferrets in the late 1980s.

  1. Giant Otter or Pteronura brasiliensis

The giant otter is an endangered species found in South America only. With some growing as long as 6 feet, giant otters are the largest species of otters in the world.

In the past, Giant otters were hunted for their fur. This led to a huge decrease in their numbers.

Today, they are no longer hunted but remain in the threatened species database because of the destruction of aquatic habitats. This destruction has caused a reduction in the fish population, the only food they rely on.

Some fishermen kill them as they view them as nuisances. Also, gold mining occurs in the region, which has led to mercury poisoning of the species and their food.

  1. Amur Leopard or Panthera Pardus Orientalis

According to WWF, there are only about 60 living Amur Leopard in the wild and around 200 in the zoo. This statistic shows that Amur Leopards are the world’s most endangered wild cats’ species and can face extinction shortly.

This animal only exists in the Amur River Basin in Eastern Russia, as it has already become extinct in the Korean Peninsula and China.

The solitary Amur Leopard has a rusty orange or thick yellow coat with long, dense hair. This wild cat weighs up to 120 pounds, can achieve speeds of 37 miles an hour, and can jump over 19 feet.

  1. The Red Wolf
Red wolf close-up looking at the camera

The red wolf is native to Florida and Southeastern Texas, and the IUCN considers them critically endangered. Recent statistics show that only 25 to 40 red wolves live in the wild, all living in ENC (Eastern North Carolina).

Red wolves are naturally shy and fond of mating for life. This species is on the brink of extinction unless more efforts are put in place to save it.

  1. Darwin’s Fox or Lycalopex fulvipes

Discovered in 1834 by Charles Darwin, the famous scientist, Darwin’s Fox is an endemic species found in Chile. This carnivorous creature is dark in color and has short legs. It hunts at twilight and dawn.

It is considered an ‘umbrella species’ because we conserve the environment and the entire ecosystem when we protect them and their temperate forest habitats.

The IUCN red list has placed this fox under threatened species because of hunting, loss of habitat, and non-native invasive species, especially domestic dogs.

Species Profiles

Related Resources