A species that is at risk of becoming extinct because of one or multiple treats, is an endangered species. Factors responsible for the declining population may include habitat destruction, environmental changes, lack of food/water, and predation. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has a list called the Red List, which contains a species conservation status listing.
According to the organization, about 40 percent of all organisms are endangered. For this year, WWF had a list of '10 to Watch in 2010', which included well-known species such as tigers, polar bears, pacific walrus, Magellanic penguins, leatherback turtles, giant pandas, monarch butterfly, Javan rhino, bluefin tuna, and mountain gorillas. Apart from those on the IUCN list, there are many more species endangered, that become, or will become extinct, without gaining public notice.
While compiling the list of such species, apart from declining numbers, there are many more factors taken into consideration, such as the overall increase or decrease in the population over time, breeding success rates, known threats, etc. The IUCN has different categories to list species including extinct, extinct in the wild, critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, conservation dependent, near threatened and least concern. Once a species finds it way into the list, in most countries, there are special laws that will protect it, such as forbidding hunting, restricting land development or creating preserves. Unfortunately, only a few of the many species at risk are enlisted, and obtain legal protection.
Endangered Species Act
Passed in 1973, the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has the purpose of protecting those plant and animal species that are at risk of becoming extinct. A species listed by the ESA may fall into either an 'Endangered' or 'Threatened' category, based on their numbers in the wild and how severely their survival is threatened. Species categorized as endangered are at risk of becoming extinct through significant portions of its habitat. Threatened species are one step better, but have the possibility of becoming endangered in the foreseeable future. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) lists, delists and reclassifies species protected by the ESA.
Protection of Listed Species
The purpose of the above mentioned Act is to protect the existing populations of endangered/threatened species. It includes a number protective measures to do so, which include restrictions on hunting, transporting and trading (buying and selling) the species. In addition, the USFWS usually develops recovery plans for Endangered and Threatened species. These plans include steps to be taken for the species to recover and eventually be removed from the ESA.
As of 2010, there were 1,148 animal species (including Mammals, Corals, Reptiles, Amphibians, Fish, Clams, Snails, Insects, Arachnids, Crustaceans and Birds) listed by the Act. 409 animal species are listed as Endangered in the United States, and 529 are listed as Endangered in foreign countries. 165 animal species are Threatened in the United States, and 45 are Threatened in foreign countries. There are 753 plant species listed by this Act. 602 are Endangered in the United States, and 1 is Endangered in foreign countries. 148 plant species are Threatened in the United States, and 2 are Threatened in foreign countries. There are 1901 total species protected by the ESA.
These facts reveal to us the wide range and number of species that are on the brink of extinction. An unfortunate truth is that, apart from the much publicized tiger and polar bear, there are many other less glamorous species that are also slowly disappearing from our planet, and only the awareness about their present condition can enable their survival.