Endangered vs threatened vs extinct species, what do we need to know? 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 a total of 41,415 species in the world. And out of those, at least 16, 306 are endangered species meaning they are threatened with extinction. The number was an increase from 16,118 in 2019.
This is according to IUCN Red List endangered species statistics which further indicates that the number of endangered, threatened and extinct species keeps going up. 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?
The red list, also known as IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) red list is a criterion used in the evaluation of the extinction and endangered crises of animal and plant species and subspecies. Founded in 1964, the IUCN red list guides on 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
- Extinct meaning- This occurs when previously surviving plants and animal species completely disappear from the earth. Extinct species no longer exist and, sadly, may never return.
- Endangered meaning: This is when living animals and plant species become so rare that they are in danger of becoming extinct.
- Threatened meaning: Occurs when plants and animals species are likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future, for a significant portion or throughout all its range.
How Extinction Happen
First, some huge changes in the earth’s condition have contributed to the living systems collapse. For instance, natural occurrences like volcano eruption 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 man activities.
Some experts believe that most animals and plants became extinct when human beings began the colonization of the various parts of the world.
Others say that the crises began around the 16th century when the human population growth exploded, and the per capita resource consumption levels started to increase 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 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 used this pesticide in their farms. After rains, it ended up being 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 which could easily crush before hatching. This significantly began reducing the number of bald eagles in existence. Luckily, the authorities banned the use of DDT pesticides, which removed bald eagles from the list of endangered species.
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
For every species to survive, they need to be in certain habitats. For example, for a cactus to survive, it has to 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, which ultimately threatens their survival.
- Eruption of Volcanoes
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, making the earth warmer.
A lot of species became extinct because they could not survive a warm climate. Newer species that could live in warmer environments thrived.
- Species Migration and Trafficking
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 when they are moved from that place, they usually die.
A classic example of the most trafficked creature is the Pangolin according to CNN. In fact, 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 invasive species effects occurs when people introduce bigger fish into lakes and streams, which end up preying on and eating the native fish.
For the native species to survive, they may have to search for a new habitat or else face extinction.
- Domesticating Wild Animals & Plants Species
Domestication of wild species is another cause of extinction. People can unknowingly harm plants and animals by taking them from their wild habitats.
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.
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 the effect on the species.
Can Anything Come Out of Extinction?
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 in 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 different species of plants and animals going into extinction due to pollution, deforestation, and even natural occurrences which are on the rise 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
Can you picture walking in the forest without hearing the chirping of the birds? 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. And almost all species depend on each other for survival. If some species disappear from the earth, this place might become unhabitable and even chaotic.
Human beings mostly depend on almost all species for food, medicine, clothing, building, inventions, and more. If we don’t save these threatened and endangered species, we will be limiting what we would achieve if they were there.
Government agencies, corporates, 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:
- Enjoyment of Future Generations
We cannot deny the fact that we get lots of pleasure interacting and seeing different species of animals and plants. Why then deny future generations the same pleasure?
We don’t want them to only 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.
- Environment and Other Species Survival
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, and they help in plant reproduction. Imagine a world without bees! A lot of plant species would become extinct, which will affect the complete food chain.
And human beings will suffer even more as their source of food, medicine, raw materials for clothing, and shelter will be under threat. This means that we have a huge responsibility in protecting every single species, no matter how small.
- For Medicinal Purposes
Human beings rely on nature, especially plants, to develop medicines. If we don’t do something to save the species that are endangered, then we will also be in danger as there will be no potential for new drugs and cure that we are yet to invent or discover.
See Related: Are Humans Animals? Things to Know
How to Help Endangered Species
Every human being has a role to play, and there are plenty of things that we can do 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.
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 to 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 on 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.
During this day, everyone is offered an opportunity to learn and educate others about the importance of 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 venerable to pollutant build-up and can even die from poisoning if they consume them at high levels.
Some plants can also die if they are exposed to large amounts of herbicides.
- Shop Ethical and Organic Items
When shopping for anything from shoes, coffee mugs, and even gifts, go for vegan, ethically, or sustainably produced items. Reduce the usage of items that are 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 that 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
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 in the world, 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 getting discovered, and there are some that even the scientists never knew existed.
Here are some of the endangered animal species at the risk of extinction:
- Black-footed Ferret or Mustela Nigripes
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 get out of 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 that occurred back in the late 1980s.
- 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 they 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, there is gold—mining occurring in the region, which has led to mercury poisoning of the species and their food.
- 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 in the near future.
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 a 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.
- The Red Wolf
The red wolf is native to Florida and Southeastern Texas, and the IUCN considers them critically endangered species. The recent statistics show that there are only about 25 to 40 red wolves in the wild and 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.
- 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 when we protect them and their temperate forest habitats, we conserve the environment and the entire ecosystem.
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.