Differences Between Endangered Species and Threatened Species

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  • 0:05 What Is Extinction?
  • 0:33 How Do Organisms Go Extinct?
  • 4:14 How Are Species Protected?
  • 4:44 How Do You Keep a…
  • 5:36 Why Conservation Is Important!
  • 6:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Laura Enzor

Laura has a Master's degree in Biology and is working on her PhD in Biology. She specializes in teaching Human Physiology at USC.

In this lesson you'll learn about two terms that describe species with very low population numbers: threatened and endangered. You'll discover why species numbers decline and how we can keep the species that are threatened or endangered from going extinct.

What Is Extinction?

There are thousands, if not millions, of species of organisms on our planet. Many species that used to exist no longer do; these species are called extinct. The most common example of an extinct species are the dinosaurs. These large animals, which once roamed the Earth, can no longer be found today. While the dinosaurs became extinct because of a meteor hitting the Earth, humans are the primary cause of species extinction today.

How Do Organisms Go Extinct?

Hunting, deforestation (or chopping down forest for land to build on), and overfishing are all human practices that contribute to the decline in species numbers. When the natural population numbers of a species get low, there are two terms that can be used to describe that species. These are threatened and endangered.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), also known as the World Conservation Union, was founded in 1948 and is primarily responsible for classifying species as threatened or endangered. The IUCN considers a species threatened if the population is vulnerable to endangerment in the near future. A species is considered endangered if the population faces a high risk of extinction. The IUCN has seven different categories in which they classify species. These are:

  • Least Concern - There is no immediate threat to the survival of the species. These are typically common species that have been hunted or can be hunted, but no harm is done to the population as a whole. Examples of these species are the Canadian goose and the American alligator.
  • Near Threatened - These are species that could be considered threatened in the near future, and population numbers are monitored carefully. Examples of near-threatened species are the emperor penguin and the American bison.
  • Vulnerable/Threatened - These are species that face a high risk of extinction, but not for many years. These species are typically hunted for pelts and trophies - for example, lions for pelts and African elephants for ivory - or have lost a significant amount of their habitat, such as Komodo dragons and Galapagos tortoises.
  • Endangered - These organisms face a high risk of extinction in the near future. Examples include Asian elephants, green sea turtles, and blue whales. These populations are closely monitored, and there are considerable fines and jail time if someone is found hunting or harming a species that is considered endangered.
  • Critically Endangered - A species in this category is likely to go extinct in the near future unless drastic measures are taken to ensure its survival. Many of these species were over-hunted or over-fished and continue to be hunted illegally, also known as poaching. Examples include the mountain gorilla, bluefin tuna, and the California condor.
  • Extinct in the Wild - This means that while no living members of a certain species exist in their native habitat, there are individuals in captivity. The best example of a species that is extinct in the wild is the northern white rhinoceros. The white rhino was over-hunted and killed for its horn, which is considered to be extremely valuable. In fact, park rangers are now cutting the horns off rhinoceros in the wild so they won't be killed by poachers.
  • Extinct - No living members of these species exist. Examples of organisms that have gone extinct include the previously mentioned dinosaurs, wooly mammoths, and dodo birds. Many of these species we only know existed from fossil records or by finding their bones buried in the ground. These are the animals that you typically see when you visit a natural history museum. However, there are numerous species that have gone extinct purely from the actions of humans. Some examples include the western black rhinoceros (which was declared extinct in 2011), the Japanese river otter (which was declared extinct in 2012), and the Formosan clouded leopard, which was declared extinct in 2013.

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