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What is an Endangered Species?

By AZA Staff
min read

Learn more about the difference between endangered and threatened species and discover what organizations like the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and others are doing to protect animals and ecosystems around the world.

What is the difference between a threatened species and an endangered species?

You’ve probably heard the term “endangered species,” but what is exactly is an endangered species, and who determines which species are endangered? Under the Endangered Species Act, endangered species are those that are currently at risk for becoming extinct within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of their ranges, while threatened species are defined as those at risk for becoming endangered. However, the terms endangered and threatened vary internationally.

Endangered species are not determined solely by the number of remaining individuals, but rather by the number and type of threats a species is facing, opportunities for mating, and more. For many endangered species, if drastic conservation action is not taken to prevent the destruction of ecosystems and natural habitats, the species will not survive.

What is the Red List of Endangered Species?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Endangered Species is the leading global source of information regarding animals, fungi, and plant species that are in danger from environmental or outside sources. Animal conservationists, policy makers, and land managers use this list as a guide to develop appropriate policies and procedures and to educate communities, hunters, landowners, business developers, and others who have a direct impact on animal welfare.

Which animals are on the Red List of Endangered Species?

To learn the conservation status of an individual species of interest, or to learn which species are at risk of extinction, you can explore the Red List website which provides information on natural habitats, threats, the estimated number of individual animals or organisms in existence, population trends, conservation efforts currently in place to prevent extinction, and endangered species conservation and research efforts needed to prevent extinction.

Who uses the Red List of Endangered Species?

In addition to providing a valuable resource for animal conservationists, IUCN’s Red List of Endangered Species also serves as a tool for government agencies, international environmental agreements, university-sponsored research departments and other educational organizations, natural resource workers, and others.

These groups can utilize the Red List as guidance for the protection of natural habitats, creation of wildlife reserves and protected areas, and can inform how business growth and development could be harmful to species in a given area. Each individual species found on the Red List is assigned a specific tag to demonstrate its conservation status and risk of extinction, including:

  • Not Evaluated (NE)
  • Data Deficient (DD)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Near Threatened (NT)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Critically Endangered (CR)
  • Extinct in the Wild (EW)
  • Extinct (EX)

Which species are at risk of becoming endangered?

Currently, more than 91,000 plant and animal species are on the IUCN’s Red List, and more than 26,000 of those are in danger of becoming extinct. This accounts for approximately 1 in 4 known and assessed species. The following percentages of various species are included on the Red List:

  • 41% of Amphibians
  • 34% of Conifers
  • 33% of Reef Building Corals
  • 31% of Sharks and Rays
  • 27% of Crustaceans
  • 25% of Mammals
  • 13% of Birds

Just a few of the species currently featured on the Red List include:


What are the most common threats to endangered species?

Common threats to both endangered and threatened species include:

  • Residential and Commercial Development
    • Commercial Centers
    • Homes and Businesses
    • Railroads
  • Roads and Bridges
  • Climate Change and Severe Weather
  • Fire and Fire Suppression
  • Illegal Hunting and Trapping and Wildlife Trade
  • Logging and Wood Harvesting
  • Mining and Quarrying
  • Disease
  • Natural Disasters
    • Avalanches
    • Earthquakes
    • Mudslides
    • Tsunamis


How can I help prevent wildlife from becoming threatened or endangered?

You don’t have to serve as a board member for an animal conservation organization to make a difference. Each and every person interacts with the environment in various ways, and each of us can have a lasting impact on the world and help protect and sustain ecosystems and animal species. Here are a few ways you can contribute from your very own home, office, or classroom.

Sustainable Living for the Environment

Adopting certain lifestyle habits can connect you with nature, help you appreciate and enjoy the diversity of animal and plant life, and help the environment while saving you, your family, and your business money. Our planet has a finite supply of natural resources, from agricultural land and water to plants and animals. Using those resources wisely can protect the natural beauty of our world for generations to come. Here are a few practical ways to implement sustainable habits.

Conserve Water

Timing showers and minimizing water use can conserve water and lower utility costs. Utilizing temperature-controlled shower heads that only use hot water when you’re ready to enjoy your shower can also cut down on energy consumption.

Reduce Plastic Consumption

Selecting products without microbeads and plastics can help protect the environment. Lately, more and more consumers are becoming aware of the dangers of the over-consumption of single-use plastics on the environment. Plastics gather in marine environments and are a direct threat to the many species who are already struggling to thrive.

Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle

Individuals can protect the environment from wherever they are on the globe by reducing consumption and reusing and recycling products. Each of these steps not only cuts down on the amount of waste introduced into the environment but decreases the need to mine, grow, produce, and transport products - each step of which impacts the planet.

READ MORE: How Zoos and Aquariums Use Green Practices to Save Animals and the Environment

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