Conservation: The IUCN Red List
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species was established in 1964 and has become the world's most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species. Learn more in our blog.
The Red List has been compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) since 1964 and contains extinct and endangered animal and plant species. On the basis of a number of criteria, such as the number of individuals capable of reproduction, the reproduction and decline rate or the distribution area, experts estimate a so-called extinction probability for a future period.
The animal and plant species studied are divided into nine different categories:
- EX - Extinct
- EW – Extinct in the Wild
- CR – Critically Endangered
- EN – Endangered
- VU – Vulnerable
- NT – Near Threatened
- LC – Least Concern
- DD – Data Deficient
- NE – Not Evaluated
What species are on the Red List?
About two million animal and plant species have been documented so far. That sounds a lot at first, but if you compare it with the estimated five to 30 million species that there are supposed to be in total, two million are only a fraction of it. The most recent list (July 2016) contains over 800 species extinct since 1500 A.D. – 813 of them completely extinct, while 65 still exist in zoos or botanical gardens. These numbers are probably much higher in reality, considering the 'small' number of species described so far.
About four percent, i.e. 73,600 animal and plant species, have so far been evaluated by IUCN and divided into one of the nine categories. Of these, 22,690 species are endangered which is only about one percent of all species discovered to date. Grossed up, the figures would of course be much higher again.
The IUCN has evaluated almost all known mammal, bird and amphibian species, so that it can be more precisely said that every fifth mammal species, every eighth bird species and every third amphibian species is threatened. In the case of the plant species studied so far, the figure is even as high as 60 percent.
What are the causes and consequences of the extinction of a species?
The causes for the extinction of a species can be quite different. Some species are generally rare because they only occur in a certain area, such as the kiwi in New Zealand, or because they can only reproduce very slowly, such as the whale shark. But humans also have an influence on the population of certain species. For example, through environmental pollution or the destruction of habitats, humans cause the decline or even extinction of certain species.
The ecosystem is a network whose functions and processes are interlinked and based on each other. Therefore, the extinction of one species also has a direct impact on other species and can, for example, cause an overpopulation or the extinction of another species.
Of course, humans are also involved in this ecological network, so that the extinction of a species can also affect us directly or indirectly. For example, if you think of the much discussed topic of bee mortality and the consequences that this sad phenomenon can have not only for nature, but also for us, it becomes particularly clear how much extinction can affect us. The death of bees would have a massive impact on our diet: there would be a decline in the harvest, especially of fruit and vegetables, which would also have economic consequences.
What's the point of the Red List?
The Red List shows which species are severely threatened and how they will be affected by future trends. In this way, greater attention can be paid to these species and active efforts can be made to protect them and their habitats in order to prevent their definitive extinction.
Which endangered species does Natucate support?
In many of our projects we support endangered animal species and try to prevent extinction with your help. You can learn more about some of these species here.
Whale shark (Rhincodon typus)
The whale shark is assigned to category EN, so it is highly endangered. Its distribution area is mainly in warm and tropical waters, but in some places it can also be found in abundance, e.g. in the Maldives. Threats to the whale shark are mainly due to fishing. The animals are either caught deliberately or get caught in fishing nets as by-catch. Injuries caused by ship collisions also contribute to them being threatened. In 2000 and 2005, whale sharks were still in the category VU, i.e. endangered. Without further species protection measures it is assumed that the population of the whale shark will continue to decline.
Desert elephant/African elephant (Loxodonta africana)
The desert elephant belongs to the species of the African elephant which – in contrast to the actual elephants – lives in the desert and has adapted to this dry environment. On the IUCN Red List they are assigned to the category VU, i.e. endangered. Ivory hunting used to be a strong threat to elephants. Illegal hunting is still a big issue, but the biggest threat is the loss of natural habitat caused by the spread of human beings. Since the African elephant was classified as highly endangered in 1996, the population has improved a little bit. Also the trend for the future seems promising and indicates a rising population.
Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas)
The green sea turtle is one of the most famous species of sea turtles and is mainly found in tropical and subtropical seas. According to the IUCN, it is considered highly endangered (EN), which is mainly due to the human being. In fact, all sea turtle species at all ages are exposed to human influence: catching eggs, adult turtles on nesting beaches or young and adult foraging turtles continues to be legal in many countries. Threats such as by-catch, habitat shrinkage or diseases also contribute to their status as endangered species. The trend for the future of the Green Sea Turtle continues to face a declining population.
African wild dog (Lycaon pictus)
The African wild dog is a pack animal native to the African savannah and is classified as highly endangered (EN). This is mainly due to habitat fragmentation which increases contact with humans and domesticated animals, and triggers a so-called "human-wildlife conflict". Diseases are also transmitted more quickly in this way. The current trend continues to show a declining population.