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What Does Endangered Mean?How Does a Species Become Endangered and Does it Matter?

Updated on January 9, 2016
During the last century we have lost 97% of our wild tigers.
During the last century we have lost 97% of our wild tigers. | Source

It has almost become a daily occurrence to read features in the newspapers and glossy magazines about declining species, threatened species, endangered animals and critically endangered animals.

Unfortunately however, there is a tendency amongst the masses to flip the page and continue on to some riveting feature about a celebrity or the latest phone app. It's as if the news of our rapidly changing world and the plight of some of its inhabitants belongs to some other planet, or some other period in history.

There are several theories as to the root of this general sense of apathy; denial, the lack of will to change our habits, or, because the consequences of an ecosystem in crisis are just too shocking to acknowledge.

But what does endangered really mean, how will we be affected by the declining numbers of animals and plants, and does it really matter?

The Eurasian Eagle Owl Has Re-emerged.

Discover some interesting facts about the Eurasian Eagle Owl, how it has reemerged and why it may become threatened once again.

Species On The Edge Of Survival. ICUN Red List

What Does Endangered Mean? How Do We Know When an Animal or Plant is Endangered?

An endangered species, which can include a plant as well as an animal, has declined in number so greatly, throughout their usual range, that they are in danger of becoming extinct. Hence the term endangered.

Various trusts and conservation organisations monitor closely the numbers of animals and plants throughout a range of different countries. Experts in their field will assess the numbers of particular species and the rate at which they may be in decline, they will also consider other criteria such as area of distribution.

Their findings are then passed on to the International Union For the Conservation Of Nature. Based on the data given to the union, such as the declining, or indeed growing numbers of a particular species, the animals (or plants) will be given a specific status on the Red List, or the ICUN Red List of Threatened Species as it is more formally known.

The ICUN Logo.
The ICUN Logo. | Source

The Endangered African Wild Dog.

African Wild Dogs were once present throughout the sub-Saharan range. Today however, they are all but extinct in many of the regions they once occupied. Read Are African Wild Dogs Endangered? Painted Dog Facts to learn more.

ICUN Red List Categories, What are They, What Do They Mean?

Based on the data given to the ICUN, each species which has been monitored and evaluated will be given a specific status. There are a range of different categories which an animal (or plant) might be included before they are given the status of endangered.

Categories on the list include:

Not Evaluated (NE) The species in question has yet to be evaluated or monitored.

Data Deficient (DE) There is Insufficient data to reach an informed conclusion about the species risk of extinction.

Least Concern (LE) Essentially, even though numbers may have declined, overall the species is not considered to be at risk. Animals and plants whose numbers may not have declined are also included in this category.

Near Threatened (NE) Based on the data available, there is a probability that the species will become endangered in the future.

Vulnerable (VU) A high risk of the species becoming endangered in the wild.

Endangered (EN) A high risk of the species becoming extinct in the wild.

Critically Endangered (CR) A very high risk of a species extinction in the wild.

Extinct In The Wild (EW) Believed only to survive in captivity, or populations which exist beyond their historic range.

Extinct (EX) Completely eradicated- no remaining individuals.

Each nation has implemented their own laws to protect endangered species. It is worth noting however, that whilst some countries take the protection of endangered species very seriously, others may not enforce said laws, resulting in numbers declining even further.

Birds Killed Due to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spil
Birds Killed Due to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spil | Source
Deforestation in the Amazon.
Deforestation in the Amazon. | Source

How do Animals, or Any Species, Become Endangered?

There are multiple reasons why a species may become endangered and, sadly, most of them are man made.

During the last century the developed world has seen rapid population growth, advances in medicine, raised awareness when it comes to our own health and widespread and compulsory programs of vaccination have also ensured that individuals are living much longer.

So, you might ask, what does this have to do with endangered species? Well, The earth's resources are finite, but the human race has demanded more and more of them.

To accommodate growing populations man has, sadly, destroyed much of the habitat of many species, in order to build more homes, roads and other developments to service communities. Deforestation has been responsible for the falling numbers of many species, including plants.

Devastating oil spills, water pollution and acid rain have greatly reduced the numbers of many fish and birds. The effects of pollution on many varieties of flora and fauna should not be underestimated.

So many animals have been hunted for their fur, or their meat, or any by-product which has a market value, such as ivory. Similarly, some marine life has been over fished, resulting in declining numbers. Likewise, during a haul, many other creatures are caught up in the nets and killed, such as sea turtles.

Disease is also responsible for the dwindling populations of some species, such as the African Wild Dog. And importation of exotic animals and plants has had it's own consequences. Exotic diseases have been introduced to some countries which a native species has been unable to fight, and likewise, native species have spread diseases amongst exotic creatures which they are unable to fight.

How is Humanity affected by the Declining Numbers of Animals/Species?

Humanity relies very heavily on the natural world, and when an animal or any other species becomes endangered there are consequences for us. All species depend upon each other, imagine our finely tuned ecosystem as a well oiled machine, each cog in the wheel representing an animal or plant. When one cog stops working there is a chain reaction because each cog relies on the other to function. The machine becomes inefficient, unreliable, or breaks down completely.

Take polar bears for example, they control the numbers of seals, their prey. Should the polar bear cease to exist, then seals would grow in number. More seals would lead to fewer fish. And what of the bee populations, without bees who would pollinate our fruit, vegetables and even coffee?

It doesn't matter which species we look at, the endangerment of one species has knock on effects which continue down the food chain.

There appears to be no doubt that the earth is getting warmer, and whether you believe that global warming is a result of natural cycles or it is man made, we are seeing the consequences in our lifetime, today. The once clearly defined four seasons appear to be in a state of flux, and extreme weather has left our wildlife populations out of sync. As Channel 4 news aptly points out:

"Orchids are not flowering at the right time for their pollinators, birds are not nesting when the Caterpillars that they feed on our out, and hedgehogs and bats are coming out of hibernation at the wrong time of the year"

For more information about some of the changes which are happening in the British countryside, read Living With Environmental Change Biodiversity Report.

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  • HollieT profile image

    HollieT 4 years ago from Manchester, United Kingdom

    You're very welcome, Sapna.

  • HollieT profile image

    HollieT 4 years ago from Manchester, United Kingdom

    Hi Dellea,

    You're right the cost of wildlife and forestry is a tragedy, but I think we can do something about it by raising awareness. When those who are able to afford to "Mcmansions" realise that the devastating effects of their behaviour will have long term consequences for them, too, they may be more inclined to opt for wildlife/environment friendly options.

    Thanks for commenting.

  • profile image

    dellea 4 years ago

    It's a real shame that people around the world opt for wealth and commercialism over declining and endangered wildlife... it's even happening in my own town where the wealthy city people buy up and clear-cut 20 acres of forest, for the sole purpose of building $5 million dollar "McMansions" to worship their own wealth and greatness and a place to hang out at occasionally on the weekends! Of course, the cost is the loss of wildlife and forestry in the said areas... and there's little that we can do about it. Great hub!

  • HollieT profile image

    HollieT 4 years ago from Manchester, United Kingdom

    Hi aviannovice,

    Thank you very much- I think you're absolutely correct. Man has become utterly complacent and really doesn't give too much thought to the relationship between species. Very sad indeed.

  • HollieT profile image

    HollieT 4 years ago from Manchester, United Kingdom

    Hi Pstraubie48,

    I agree that it's so sad that some species are disappearing before our very eyes. It was only the other day that I was informed that the Black Rhino is now extinct. I agree that we should do all we can to preserve what we have left.

  • HollieT profile image

    HollieT 4 years ago from Manchester, United Kingdom

    Thank you, Sarifearnbd.

    I'm glad you enjoyed reading it. Now we just have to get the world to take note! :)

  • aviannovice profile image

    Deb Hirt 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

    This was beautifully done. people don't realize that the domino effect has such great disadvantages for everything in the entire system.

  • pstraubie48 profile image

    Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

    I would be sad if I knew that my grandson's children would be denied seeing some beautiful animal or plant because it no longer was on the planet.

    Thank you for sharing all of this information with you; perhaps each of us will do whatever we can to help preserve our precious creatures.

    Glad to see you in this writing community....Angels re on the way :) ps

  • sarifearnbd profile image

    Shariful Islam 4 years ago from Bangladesh

    Excellent and well packaged information you actually shared in here which i so much enjoy reading from.

  • HollieT profile image

    HollieT 4 years ago from Manchester, United Kingdom

    Thank you, Jean. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  • Jean Bakula profile image

    Jean Bakula 4 years ago from New Jersey

    Thank you for such an interesting and well researched article. Welcome to Hubpages, too!