Threatened and Endangered Animals

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Bald eagleAnimals are beautiful and fascinating. They are living, breathing creatures with significant meaning to their lives. A world without animals is no world at all. Humans and animals must co-exist in order to maintain balance and continuing survival on this planet. Yet with the rapid change in human societies in the last two centuries, many animals have not been able to adapt quickly enough to keep up, and as a result, they are in serious danger.

The Red List

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has calculated the percentage of the endangered species as 40% of all organisms based on the sample of species evaluated through 2006. The IUCN has made a list of endangered animals called the “Red List”. There are more than 5,000 animals on the Red List, not to mention all the amphibians, mammals, and insects. In total, there are a total of 15,589 species on the Red List as of 2006.

What is an Endangered Animal?

Endangered animals are defined as any animal that is in danger of becoming extinct. Animals are identified as being endangered either because there are already too few of them living in the wild, or even in captivity; or because their continued existence is threatened by a changing environment which results in them losing access to adequate food or living conditions. The way to understand what is meant by “too few” is that their reproductive rates are lower than their mortality rates.

Are Endangered Animals New?

Endangered animals have gained much attention in the media and public awareness in the past several decades, but the fact that whole animal species are threatened by environmental factors and actually leave the earth forever is not a new phenomenon. The dinosaurs are perhaps the most well-known example of extinction. We have evidence however, of many more species that once thrived on the earth but are no longer in existence.

What Causes Animals to Become Endangered?

The industrialization of human societies and the globalization of the human culture have resulted in dramatic environmental changes in the past two centuries. These changes have been too fast for too many of the earth’s creatures to survive. Although many animals have been endangered through the ages, the threat to animals is greater now than ever before.

Being identified as an endangered animal means that either the animal will be protected and find its way back to recovery, or it will vanish from existence. The label “endangered animal” is like being diagnosed with a disease, but it does not mean absolute eventual extinction. The path that endangered animals take is dependent on human intervention.

Can We Prevent Endangered Animals from Going Extinct?

Conservation groups work with many different endangered animals and work diligently for many decades to save them. There are many success stories in this category including the American Bald Eagle. Therefore, being listed as an endangered animal is not necessarily a death sentence. It is these success stories that keep us hopeful and persistent in our mission to save and protect.

Because there are so many different stages, or levels, of being endangered, there are two different approaches for dealing with the conditions. As mentioned earlier, being labeled “endangered” is like being diagnosed with a disease. Think of “endangered” as a kind of disease that is a potential threat to all species in the same way that cancer or heart disease are potential threats to all humans. The diagnosis is treatable. If someone is already diagnosed with cancer for example, the approach is to heal; if we have a susceptibility to the disease however, but are not yet sick, we take preventive measures. In this same way, we take action to save (or heal) endangered animals that are already threatened with extinction, and protective (or preventive) measures for animals that live under conditions that make them more susceptible to such a threat.

For example, elephants in both Africa and Asia are seriously threatened. One in three amphibians are threatened; one in four mammals are in danger; one in eight birds; and nearly one half of all fresh water turtles are all susceptible to the possibility of extinction (IUCN). These are staggering numbers. Therefore, scientists and conservationists are actively intervening on their behalf to save and protect them.

What Are We Doing to Save Endangered Animals?

Efforts to save endangered animals include breeding in captivity such as the Panda bears, and sanctuaries where wild animals are carefully monitored by conservation scientists. Forms of protection include laws that forbid hunting, laws that restrict land development, and the establishment of heavily guarded conservation reserves.

The safari reserves in Africa are an example of protective measures. Another example is the prohibiting of whale and shark hunting. These efforts come with complications and controversy. For example, although it is against the law to kill elephants in Africa, the demand for ivory from the elephants’ tusks is in direct competition with efforts to protect the elephants. The ivory is sold on the black market for huge sums of money, so people who live in areas where the elephants are under national and international protection are lured by the monetary rewards they can collect from breaking the laws and killing the elephants. Because the geographic size of the elephants’ habitat is so large, it is not humanly possible to guard all the land at all times.

Though the challenges to save and protect endangered animals are great, we recognize the value of animal diversity on earth. The more we can learn about endangered animals helps us all to be more conscious and respectful of our environment which in turn, helps to save and protect endangered animals.

About The Author:

Alex loves nature and does his best to take care of the planet. He doesn't take for granted the serenity that can be found in the stillness of an ancient forest, or the majestic power of the ocean's large waves as they crash on an isolated island shoreline. He wants to raise awareness for how simple it can be to make a couple changes in your everyday life that can make a huge difference for the environment in the long term.

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Femina shaikh
How to create awareness on saving the snow leopard
It’s sad to think of the rate at which animals are going extinct. We were just on the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica and saw a wildlife refuge where they’ve rehabilitated wild Macaw birds. They were nearly extinct, and now they’re up to about 75 of them. My jaw dropped when I saw the beauty of these magnificent birds. It literally took my breath away. They are so colorful, and their flight is so elegant. With the way that the human race is eating away at our planet I fear the extent to which the endangered definition may soon cover the remaining wildlife on planet Earth.

Amy Brannan (Admin)
I couldn’t agree more. There are already so many beautiful animals that have been wiped off the face of this Earth as a result of our doing. It makes me angry to see just how negatively we are impacting the lives of so many other species and yet how little we actually think about reversing the damage we have done. If everyone in the world had it in them to do their part like that wildlife refuge, the world would be a much more colorful and diverse place!

Makes me think back to the Dodo bird on the Mauritius islands. How sad is it that our presence on Earth is causing countless animals to die? It’s going to bite is in the butt sooner or later, and as far as I can see, Obama isn’t doing much to help the environment. WTF?

The first thing that I learned from this article was the exact definition of an endangered species. Like everyone else I have heard the layman definition about animals that are in danger of dying out or their environments are changing and they are not able to adapt quickly enough. However, this definition has always seemed to me inadequate and unsatisfying. In this article I have learned that an endangered species is one whose reproductive rates are lower than their mortality rates.

This makes perfect sense. If a species is not currently producing enough offspring to counteract those who are dying, then it really is only a matter of time. I hope this is really the definition and not just something the author took the liberty of making up and claiming as their own?

I also must confess to not really being overly concerned about the plight of many endangered animals. Many of the people who are very vocal in these areas seem to have inherent contradictions. For example, many of these people have no problem subscribing to the theories of evolution and natural selection. I am not here to find fault with either of these ideas, just to point out that if an animal is endangered because they could not adapt quick enough to changing conditions, they are probably not the fittest. Additionally, it could also been seen as nature selecting them for extinction. Therefore, why should there be a great concern about trying to save any particular animal who reaches such a list?

The author uses a lot of statistics about such animals. In the article it even indicates that the percentage of endangered species is 40 percent of all organisms. I find this number very hard to believe. At least the source of this statistic is quoted, so that we as readers are free to investigate and check these numbers. I just do not see any way that the number of endangered species could be this high. The article also indicates that there are over 5,000 animals on this, and over 15,000 species. Again, both of these seem awfully high to me.

The initial premise is that a world without animals is no world at all. Additionally, that human beings must maintain a balance with animals so that we can all survive and live together. The author seems to be arguing that the change we, as people, have brought about is destroying the planet. Yet, there is no alternative solution proffered. I wonder if the author would have the world go back to living in middle age conditions in order to ensure the survival of all the animals whose lives are full of significant meaning.

After reading the article, I am still waiting for the author to prove this last assertion. Certainly some animals are wonderful and provide companionship for people as well as a number of other benefits. But I do not think it is correct to argue that the lives of all animals are full of meaning. How could anyone argue that the one eye spotted black newt salamander has a life which is full of meaning? Would the world suffer an irreparable loss if they became extinct?

Yes, I am being sarcastic, but the point is well taken, I hope. I think we can all agree that certainly the loss of some animals would not be good for the world or the natural ecosystem. However to lump every single type of animal on the endangered list together is probably a bit of overkill.

The author does correctly point out that simply being placed on such a list is no longer a death sentence. Generally what happens is that this will work out in one of two directions. If the animal is perceived to have a high enough worth or value, then maybe a large or powerful conservation group will try to champion their cause. This could lead to some changes in legislation which grants them special protections. This can afford the animal (or species) a better chance to improve their numbers and maybe even be selective bred by professionals.

This first direction is an example of what has happened with a species like the bald eagle. Once placed on the endangered species list, a number of conservation groups came to their aid. Due to the bird being the national symbol, it was easily able to generate a lot of political interest and new protection legislation. Some of the animals were captured by professionals for the express purpose of breeding and studying in captivity. Eventually, due to a high degree of effort, the bald eagle was taken off of this list, and is currently thriving.

Of course, the other direction this can take is not as happy. Many times an animal or a species is not able to generate this same level of interest or political support. Returning to an earlier example, what Congressman wants to be known as the person who strongly pushed for special protections for the one eye spotted black newt salamander? That person would probably be laughed back to their home district, maybe never to be heard from again!

Useless Reptile

In response to your feelings regarding the meaning of seemingly insignificant animals, I would point out that the loss of even one species of ant which has a particular role in, say, protecting a certain bush, can cause great changes in an ecosystem. These systems need to adjust to that loss of life in the food web, changes in soil conditions because that associated plant is gone, etc. So much is connected, and when we disassociate from less desirable species, we let them go whether other creatures are worse off for it or not.

The author also correctly points out that the path lead back from being endangered to thriving is essentially dependent upon human intervention. The condition of being endangered is actually compared to having a disease diagnosed. I found this quite interesting as an explanation and quite satisfying as an analogy.

There are different levels of being endangered as well. A lower level would be called threatened. This is comparable to being at risk for a particular disease or condition. It would be like a person who is extremely overweight and having a family history of diabetes and heart disease. Of course, any rational person in such a situation knows that they are highly susceptible to actually getting one of these diseases.

An animal that is considered threatened may not yet have their actual reproductive numbers below their mortality rate, but their populations are decreases and other conditions point to them heading in this direction. Once an animal or species reaches this level, we should all be put on notice. Animals such as the elephant are currently in this status. We, as people, should be willing to help out and intervene in order to save them from extinction.

The author next poses the question as to whether or not we are doing enough to help these animals. Some of the more commonly used methods to help animals are then pointed out. For example, many types of animals have been bred (or attempted to be bred) in captivity. The author uses pandas as an example of this. Personally, I remember when getting pandas to breed in captivity was incredibly rare. This is not something I have followed, so hopefully today it is easier for this to occur.

There are also a number of other methods used to try and help protected and endangered animals. These include creating sanctuaries where these animals can roam in environments which are as natural as possible, while being carefully monitored and studied by trained conservation specialists and wildlife professionals. There are also laws that prohibit or severely restrict hunting (although enforcement of these can be a mixed bag), laws which restrict land development in areas which are considered natural habitat and even establishing heavily guarded preserves.

Some further examples of these methods are offered (I assume this is given as proof that these methods are indeed working). The safari reserves in Africa as well as the prohibition of whale and shark hunting are some examples.

One of my main criticisms of these methods is that they are really difficult to police and enforce. Thankfully, the author even acknowledges this concern by pointing out that many natives are willing to the break the laws in order to gain monetary rewards. A perfect example is the ivory trade. The tusks of elephants are worth a lot of money due to their ivory content. Many impoverished natives are willing to risk killing an elephant or two in order to make enough money to keep their family fed for an entire year. Additionally, the natural habitat of an animal such as the elephant is so vast that it really cannot be effectively monitored or controlled.

I would simply like to point out the economic realities of the situation we face. If we as a society really want to eliminate the trade in illegal animals and their products, then we must do a better job at not only enforcing existing laws, but actually crafting laws which give people the proper incentives.

For example, if a single gibbon can fetch up 16,000 US dollars, but the penalty for selling such an animal is only $1,600, what type of message does this send? Personally, I certainly understand an sympathize with the situation that many people are placed in. If my family were hungry and struggling to survive financially, I would be strongly tempted to pick up a few such animals and sell them on the black market.

I would also like to say that I think far too many people in the rich western nations sit up on high horses and try to judge many of these folks unfairly. I can only assume that many of these judgers are simply ignorant of the true situation and just do not understand what life is like outside of the USA or Western Europe.

At this point, the author loses me again, referring to how we simply need to learn all we can about endangered animals.

In my opinion, this enhanced knowledge will lead to us being more conscious and respectful of our environment, which will further lead to saving even more animals. While this type of circuitous reasoning was not helpful, the article did get me to think and take a closer look at this interesting issue.

Certainly, there are many animals that are worthy of being protected. Some animals have even witnessed a remarkable come back after being placed on the endangered species list. A perfect example of this has been the Bald Eagle. Many different groups and organizations took up the cause and banded together. Currently, this magnificent bird is thriving and has been able to come off the list.

Then again, there are also many animals on this list that really do not have any hope. Certainly the Bald Eagle and the Emperor Penguin are very appealing animals for political reasons. They will receive a huge amount of media attention, which generates a lot of public interest and money. This is really the key to helping these animals: raising money.