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What Does Endangered Mean?How Does a Species Become Endangered and Does it Matter?
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 Endangered African Wild Dog.
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.
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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