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The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is responsible for categorising the conservation status of the world’s species. It is an essential tool for understanding the state of the biodiversity on Earth. The list explores both plant and animal species, but this blog focuses on why endangered and vulnerable animal species matter so much to us.
What are endangered and vulnerable animals?
The IUCN categorise species by conservation status on their Red List of Threatened Species. The main categories consist of Extinct, Extinct in the Wild, Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, Near Threatened and Least Concern.
This article will focus on the importance of Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable species, those that the IUCN categorise as ‘threatened’.
Critically endangered (CR)
Species that face an extremely high risk of becoming extinct in the wild. Species include Bornean Orangutan, Sumatran Orangutan, Javan Rhino, Yangtze Finless Porpoise and the Black Rhino. There are almost 10,000 categorised as Critically Endangered.
Species that face a very high risk of becoming extinct in the wild. Species include Blue Whale, Bonobo, Indian Elephant, Sea Lions, African Wild Dog and Bluefin Tuna. There are almost 17,500 categorised as Endangered.
Species that face a high risk of becoming extinct in the wild. Species include Hippopotamus, Giant Panda, Leatherback Turtle, Giant Tortoise and the Great White Shark. There are nearly 18,000 categorised as Vulnerable.
All of these species face a common issue, that there is a risk they will become extinct in the wild at some point in the future, without adequate protection and conservation.
Most of us are aware of some of the main reasons why species are facing extinction, which include climate change, habitat degradation/destruction, over-exploitation (hunting, fishing) and invasive species.
Why they matter and why we must conserve them
Simply put, the health of biodiversity affects our own health. If we continue losing biodiversity at the rate we have been, we are exposing ourselves to great risk. Animals are part of a complex chain of ecosystems and without them, many of these chains would collapse, resulting in the loss of other species further down the line.
Cultural importance: Throughout the world there are animals that hold significant cultural value, for instance, the Manta Ray, or Hahalua in Hawaiian, is seen as the ocean’s gentle giant and represents wisdom, grace and strength.
Economic importance: Animals are a huge draw for people to travel, from taking a safari on the vast plains of Africa to trekking deep into the Amazon jungle to find jaguar. Tourists travelling to see animals generate income for millions of people worldwide and support many livelihoods, along with conservation initiatives such as anti-poaching programmes.
The sea otter example
The sea otter is endangered and gives us an example of how the loss or decline of an animal species can affect humans. The sea otter inhabits the shallow coasts of the northern Pacific Ocean. This species is predominantly at the top of the food chain and is responsible for controlling the sea urchin populations which cause extensive damage to the important kelp forests. The kelp forests are essential because they provide a home for many species, they protect the coastlines from storms and absorb carbon, thus helping to remove carbon emissions from the atmosphere. With otter populations declining in certain areas, the number of sea urchins increase and subsequently the kelp forests are shrinking. This small example shows how the decline in one animal species affects the planet.
How you can help to conserve endangered and vulnerable species
The important thing to note is that there are ways you can help to conserve endangered and vulnerable species, even if you live in the middle of a city or are a long distance from them! You can do this by:
Reducing the consumption of non-sustainable palm oil: The demand for palm oil has exploded and the production of this key ingredient has led to deforestation and, in turn, loss of species. Check product labels to see if they contain palm oil and only buy those that have a sustainability certification or that confirm that no deforestation was involved.
Eliminating single-use plastics: Single-use plastic is responsible for the demise of many species and cutting it out or ensuring you recycle what you do use, is essential for conservation.
Planting a wildlife garden: Growing native plants can help animal species. By growing native species you’ll be encouraging pollinators such as bees, butterflies and birds. Pollination is an essential ecosystem service that is critical to human survival.
Donating to a conservation charity: There are countless charities across the globe who are fighting threats against animal species and your donations will help them carry out this important work. Some international ones include WWF (World Wildlife Fund), Jane Goodall Foundation and Defenders of Wildlife. Of course, wherever you are located there will be smaller, local charities doing their bit to conserve and protect.
Being a responsible traveller: Ensure that your actions as a traveller are responsible. This means not buying products made from animals, protecting their habitats, staying away from at-risk ecosystems without guidance and watching what you eat so you do not consume an endangered species.