Monday, September 17, 2012

Endangered Species Monday - What is the IUCN?

Since starting the weekly posts Endangered Species Monday, I have had some people ask me what the IUCN is and exactly what they do? So today, rather than feature another endangered species, I am going to give you a little background on the IUCN and how endangered species are classified.

IUCN stands for International Union for Conservation of Nature, which is the world's oldest and largest global environmental organization.

Many people have heard of the IUCN Red List, but not all know the depth of it - including myself. What I do know is being that being high up on the Red List is not a good thing.

Under the Endangered Species Act, an animal classified as endangered receives more protection than one classified as threatened. The IUCN breaks the classifications down into 7 categories and rates the level of threat based on certain criteria.

  • Extinct
  • Extinct in the wild (only captive individuals survive)
  • Critically endangered (almost certain risk of extinction in the immediate future)
  • Endangered (faces a very high risk of extinction in the near future)
  • Vulnerable (faces a high risk of extinction in the future)
  • Near threatened (could be considered threatened in the near future)
  • Least concern (no immediate threat to the survival of the species)

Plants and animals are listed by the IUCN and what many people don't understand is that every living creature, both plant and animal, have a very specific place in the ecosystem. If a plant becomes extinct and it is the main food source for an animal, then that animal will most likely become extinct too. 

Once a species is classified as endangered, certain laws and restrictions can be put into place to help save them and hopefully remove them from the endangered status. Unfortunately, for some species this puts a higher price on the animal for hunters and they quickly move up to critically endangered. When this happens, I am thankful for organizations who work together to help bring species back from the brink of extinction.

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