A few weeks ago, the Red List of Threatened Species was updated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This list reveals the conservation status of the different animal and plant species worldwide, classifying them into different protection and conservation categories.

IUCN is a membership union, composed by government and civil society organisations, that works in the field of nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, and provides the different organisations with the tools and knowledge they need to enable environmental protection. One of these tools is the Red List of Threatened Species.

The Red List of Threatened Species, a very useful resource

The Red List of Threatened Species is one of the main tools to determine the state of the Earth’s biological diversity. It identifies the main points to take into account for the protection and conservation of species, thanks to the contributions and studies of over 13,000 experts in the field.

It is a very important technical resource, which serves as a guiding principle for the realization of species protection catalogues. Thus, the species included in this Red List should be protected by law, based on scientific criteria, and should be subject to a conservation and/or recovery plan. There are several categories in this list; only the species classified as Critically endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable are considered endangered.

Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris). By Vaclav Sebek | Shutterstock.com
Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris). By Vaclav Sebek | Shutterstock.com

The Red List of Threatened Species today

The number of species included in the different categories of the Red List of Threatened Species changes every year. Its last update includes almost 100,000 species, 25% of which are endangered. In this case, amphibians and reptiles are the most threatened animal groups.

The scientists and experts carrying out research and studies around the world provide a constant flow of new information. When the conservation status of the different species is revised (every four to five years), this improved knowledge may result in the reclassification of some species to a higher (or lower) category of endangerment.

Categories of the Red List of Threatened Species

The categories of the Red List of Threatened Species cover all the species that are or may be threatened in the near future; these are required to be assessed regularly to determine their conservation status (and it is forbidden to adversely affect their situation). The list includes the following categories:

  • Extinct (EX). A species is considered Extinct when there is no doubt that the last existing individual has died. Example: the Guadalupe caracara (Caracara lutosa).
  • Extinct in the wild (EW). A species is categorized as Extinct in the wild when it is known to exist only in cultivation, captivity or as naturalised population outside its original geograpƒhic range. Example: the scimitar oryx (Oryx dammah).
South Texas Scimitar Horned Oryx in a herd. By GizmoPhoto | Shutterstock.com
South Texas Scimitar Horned Oryx in a herd. By GizmoPhoto | Shutterstock.com
  • Critically endangered (CR). A species is Critically endangered when it faces an extremely high risk of going extinct in the wild in the near future. These species are at risk because they are few in number, they are threatened by the change of environmental parameters and/or by predation. It is the last of the seven levels of endangerment before extinction, so the species included in this category are in urgent need of a recovery plan. Example: the red wolf (Canis rufus).
  • Endangered (EN). A species is Endangered when, despite not being included in the Critically endangered category, it also faces a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future. The species in this category are unlikely to survive if the causal factors that lead to their situation continue. Just like species classified as Critically endangered, Endangered species also require a recovery plan; this is the case of the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus).
Iberian lynx chasing a bird. By Fernando Cortes | Shutterstock.com
Iberian lynx chasing a bird. By Fernando Cortes | Shutterstock.com
  • Vulnerable (VU). A species is considered Vulnerable when it is not Critically endangered or Endangered, but faces a high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium term. If a species is classified as Vulnerable, it means that IUCN considers it is highly likely to become Endangered if its main threats persist. Conservation plans are carried out for species in this category, rather than recovery plans, as for the categories above. Example: the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus).
  • Near threatened (NT). These are species that are not considered threatened, but that will possibly be qualified as Vulnerable in the near future. Example: the Mexican redknee tarantula (Brachypelma smithi).
Birdeater tarantula spider Brachypelma smithi in natural forest environment. By Aleksey Stemmer | Shutterstock.com
Birdeater tarantula spider Brachypelma smithi in natural forest environment. By Aleksey Stemmer | Shutterstock.com
  • Least concern (LC). The species in this category do not meet the requirements to be included in one of the categories above, so they are not considered to be threatened. They are species with numerous individuals and large distributions, and are not likely to be threatened in the near future. Example: the Philippine flying lemur (Cynocephalus volans).

Translated by Carlos Heras


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