Last month saw the launch of David Attenborough’s latest program “Our Planet” on Netflix. In partnership with the World Wildlife Fund, this eight-part series highlights the importance of preserving the Earth’s wilderness and the animal inhabitants that live among it. Whilst awareness of climate change and the impact of human activity on the planet is rising, more needs to be done to drive lasting, positive change.
One initiative to help tackle the issue is Endangered Species Day which falls on the third Friday of May every year. Conceived in 2006 by the United States Congress, Endangered Species Day encourages individuals to celebrate all wildlife, and raises awareness of the animals at or approaching risk of extinction.
To protect a species from extinction, it is important that we can first classify them based on their risk. So, how do we decide if a species is in danger of extinction? What are the threats? And what can we do to help? This article aims to answer all these questions in order to help raise awareness of an important and topical issue.
Mapping it out
To showcase the magnitude of the issue at hand, Technology Networks has partnered with CartoVista to present geographical data of six endangered species; The Pangolin, Staghorn Coral, Asian Elephant, Gouldian Finch, Waved Albatross and Polar Bears and their reflective continents. The map provides further information about each of the species and the nature of their endangerment. Allowing you to focus in on the areas with the highest density of endangered species.
Don’t miss the prize draw!
You can also test your knowledge with a quiz and be entered into a prize draw on June 7th for a $100 donation towards an endangered species charity or conservation organization of your choice – so be sure to take a look at the map below.
You can also find the map on the CartoVista website here.
Endangered species classifications
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, also known as the IUCN Red List, is the most widely recognized, objective method for classifying the status of living organisms threatened by extinction. The list evaluates the conservation status of a species globally, using a set of quantitative criteria and a strong scientific base of expert knowledge from around the world. Currently, over 98,500 species have been assessed, with an aim of reaching 160,000 species by 2020.
Source: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Population decline over the
previous 10 years or three generations
Critically endangered (CR)
|Endangered (EN)||50-70%||<250 individuals|
|Vulnerable (VU)||30-50%||<1000 individuals|
For species classified as data deficient, there is a lack of available data concerning the abundance and distribution of a species, meaning that a complete assessment on the risk of extinction cannot be performed. This does not describe the conservation status of a species.
Threats to wildlife
While some threats to wildlife occur naturally (due to factors such as disease, competition for resources and environmental changes), roughly 99% of threatened species are at risk because of human activities alone. In particular, the demand for increased commercial agriculture and infrastructure is driving large-scale conversion of land in previously undisturbed areas, resulting in significant loss and degradation of animal habitats across the globe.
One example of this is the deforestation caused by the demand for palm oil – the most widely consumed vegetable oil on the planet – found in everything from cosmetics and candles, to donuts and ice-cream. 50 billion kilograms of palm oil is produced every year, with over 85% coming from just two countries: Indonesia and Malaysia. Due to the rich biodiversity in these regions, the removal of acres of rainforest for new plantations and the expansion of farms puts many species at risk.
Almost 80% of the orangutan habitat has been lost due to the increasing demand for palm oil. In 1990 there were over 315,000 orangutans. Today, fewer than 50,000 are estimated to exist in the wild. Other species such as rhinos, tigers and elephants have also been forced into smaller areas. This has multiple implications; they become reliant on plantations for food or can be forced to travel between remaining habitats – increasing the risk of conflict with humans. Despite this, organizations such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, The Orangutan Project and the Rainforest Action Network are striving to promote sustainable production and mitigate the industry’s impact on the environment and the affected communities.
Globalization has not only increased the movement of people; species have been transported, intentionally and unintentionally, across the globe since the dawn of travel. Although not all introduced species are considered threats (e.g. cattle and food crops), some can have significant effects on the ecosystems they are introduced to. Regardless of their size, with no natural predators or controls, new species can quickly take over a new environment – putting the native wildlife at a serious disadvantage if it has not evolved defences against the invader. The kudzu plant species’ is particularly tenacious; tolerant to both drought and frost, it can quickly outcompete diverse ecosystems, reducing biodiversity and productivity of other species.
The decline of red squirrels in the UK is another example. Native to the region, these squirrels have become a rarer sight since the introduction of grey squirrels from North America in the 1800s, which has diminished their population significantly. Today, it is estimated that there are 140,000 red squirrels and 2.5 million grey squirrels in the UK. This disparity is due to competition for food and shelter as well as infection through the squirrel pox virus. Grey squirrels can carry the virus without detrimental effects on their health, whereas red squirrels often die within 1-2 weeks of contracting the virus. Without conservation efforts, red squirrels could become extinct within 10 years.
A changing climate
Climate change as a result of human activity is arguably one of the greatest threats to wildlife and mankind alike. Warmer and shorter winters facilitates the growth of pests and disease as evidenced by the decline in North American moose populations due to tick infestations. Changes in rainfall patterns are also forcing elephants to compete with each other and other species (including humans) for a diminishing water supply.
In addition to a rise in average temperatures and changes in the global water cycle, a decrease in the ocean’s pH levels is causing acidification and a change in the chemical composition that is driving large-scale mortality. Scientists have estimated that by 2050, we will have lost 90% of coral reefs – a phenomena referred to by some as “the great dying”.
A disruption to the Earth’s climate may also affect breeding and migration. Adélie penguins feed on krill that require ice for breeding and feeding. In some parts of the Antarctic Peninsula, there has been more than a 60% reduction in sea ice, causing a decline in krill populations and a scarcity of food. In addition to forcing Adélie penguins to migrate for alternative food sources, warmer temperatures have also altered chick hatching times, triggering the birth of penguins when food is scarce.
Increasing temperatures have also been linked to a gender imbalance of green turtles. The sex depends on the temperature of the sand where the eggs are laid, with warmer air and sea temperatures favoring female offspring. The ratio of female sea turtles to males from the Pacific Ocean’s largest green turtle rookery was found to be 116:1, leaving researchers concerned about the stability of the population.
It is a strange and unfortunate paradox that reductions in population levels makes rarer species more desirable to humans that trade them. By promoting sustainable harvesting and addressing wildlife trade issues, organizations such as TRAFFIC endeavour to prevent trade in wild plants and animals becoming a threat to the conservation of nature. Unfortunately, thousands of animals are killed each year – some by hunters, others by organized criminals looking to trade different animal parts. Rhinos, tigers and elephants represent just a few of many species that are being hunted into extinction. Wildlife trade can also cause indirect harm when non-target species are killed. This can happen on land and sea, due to bycatch.
It’s not all bad news
Although more and more species are being added to the IUCN Red List, some stories caught our attention for the right reasons. On April 24, the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society published the news that two new bird species were discovered in Wakatobi Archipelago of Sulawesi, Indonesia: the Wakatobi white-eye and Wangi-wangi white-eye. In a nod to Charles Darwin, the Galapagos Tortoise – which was believed to have gone extinct over 100 years ago – was recently found alive and well on an expedition to Fernandina Island. And lastly, the world’s largest bee (Wallace’s giant bee, otherwise known as Megachile pluto) has been rediscovered in Indonesia, after being presumed extinct, by Australian biologist Simon Robson and writer Glen Chilton in efforts with the Global Wildlife Conservation.
What can you do?
Raising awareness of important issues such as endangered species is undoubtedly important, but to make a change it is imperative to take action. The Endangered Species Coalition have listed 10 easy things that you can do to make a difference.
We have highlighted a few of our favorites below. You can find the full list on their website.
- Learn about endangered species in your area
Protect species by learning and teaching others about them and their importance in the ecosystem.
- Make your home wildlife-friendly
Placing decals on windows will protect birds from colliding with them. Additionally, securing garbage, feeding pets indoors can discourage animals from coming inside your home. Reducing water usage can also make your garden and surrounding areas safer for animals.
- Slow down when driving
Many animals live in developed areas and they must often cross roads dividing their habitat, so look out and slow down when driving.
- Never purchase products made from threatened or endangered species
Many products are often made from species at risk of extinction so avoid purchasing those made from tortoise shell, ivory and fur for example.
- Leave endangered wildlife alone
Shooting, trapping or forcing a threatened or endangered species is illegal, and can ead to their extinction. As well as abstaining from this activity, speak up if you see or hear anything by reporting to your local authority or federal wildlife enforcement office.