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IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

Species Extinction

Approximately one in four of the world's mammals - no fewer than 1,137 different species altogether - are threatened with extinction, mainly as a result of human activity. The authoritative source of information on these and other threatened species is the Red List, which is managed by IUCN - The World Conservation Union. The list is designed to determine the relative risk of extinction for each species and has several key categories:

  • Extinct: the last individual has died and the species no longer exists.
  • Critically endangered: faces extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.
  • Endangered: faces a very high risk of extinction in the wild.
  • Vulnerable: faces a high risk of extinction in the wild.
  • Near threatened: likely to qualify for a category of high concern in the near future.

IUCN figures for known species under threat:

  • Mammals 23% (elephants, rhinos, carnivores, primates, manatees)
  • Amphibians 32% (salamanders, true toads, many tropical frogs)
  • Turtles/tortoises 42% (green, loggerhead and leatherback turtles,)
  • Sharks 33%
  • Birds 12% (albatrosses, cranes, parrots)
  • Freshwater fishes 25%
  • Coniferous trees 25%
  • Fern plants 52%

Extinction, the death of the last individual of a species, is a permanent and irreversible loss. 15,589 species are threatened with extinction, 844 are already extinct or extinct in the wild and a further 3,700 species are nearly threatened or already dependant on conservation efforts. Therefore, one in every eight birds, one in every four mammals and one in every three amphibians face a high risk of extinction in the near future. Whilst a certain amount of species extinction is natural, the rate at which it is currently happening is not. This is as a direct result of, in most cases, human activity from habitat destruction and pollution to climate change. This imbalance affects mammals, birds, amphibians, trees and molluscs.

Most threatened species occur in the tropics in Central and South America, in Africa south of the Sahara and tropical South and Southeast Asia not least because these areas contain the tropical and subtropical broadleaf forests within which the majority of the earth's terrestrial and freshwater species live. Overexploitation (hunting, human consumption and the wildlife-for-pets trade) is a major threat to wildlife. Mortality amongst seabirds, marine mammals and other marine species is caused directly by over-fishing and the widespread wanton use of fishing methods dangerous to marine life.

Most tropical regions of the world, China, parts of India, the Himalayas, Sri Lanka, Java, the Philippines and parts of Africa have high human populations and most of the world's threatened species, with many animal and plant species gradually losing ground. As human populations are predicted to increase rapidly in Cameroon, Colombia, Ecuador, India, Madagascar, Malaysia, Peru, Philippines, Tanzania and Venezuela, so the threats to their indigenous species will increase. Even countries with very strong economies have a large number of threatened species such as Australia, Malaysia, Mexico and the United States. Without greater concerted conservation action particularly, though not exclusively, within tropical regions of the world, extinctions are probable. As all species are interrelated in fragile ecosystems this is as much bad news for the animals and plants affected as for the humans that depend upon them.


The types of actions that can be applied to the conservation of the world's species are:

Species based: addressing the threat specific to species and implementing conservation measures required to ensure their short, medium and long-term prospects. DSWF supports 10 conservation projects in 11 countries in Africa and Asia (link to projects page) and with your help provides a very real future for the rhinos, elephants, tigers and other critically endangered mammals in the wild.

Habitat and site based: which protects habitats and the species that depend upon them for their survival. (link to projects page)

Policy based: influencing national and local governments and international policies and treaties to provide institutional support, human and financial resources and laws required for effective species conservation. There are now more than 500 international treaties that concern the environment. (link to projects page)

Communication and education based: to create the public awareness needed to support conservation efforts in the field and local community outreach projects. (link to projects page)

Research based: the facts and figures which provide the knowledge that increasing numbers of species are threatened with extinction every year, and how close that threat is.

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