An Overview of Endangered Species Policies and Categories

An Overview of Endangered Species Policies and Categories

A species is described as endangered when the entire population faces a serious risk of extinction. In the early twenty-first century, as human population growth, large-scale agriculture, and increasing economic development impact the planet in ways never before seen, extinctions are occurring at an unprecedented rate. The World Conservation Union has estimated that as many as 40 percent of all organisms are under some degree of threat due to habitat destruction, disease, pollution, overhunting and overfishing, or other reasons.

Throughout the world, many nations have passed laws to limit hunting and development, or set aside preserves to offer protection to wildlife, especially endangered species. Many private groups, including the World Conservation Union and the World Wildlife Federation, are also hard at work protecting endangered species. Because of these laws and private efforts, the populations of many species have increased and returned from the brink of extinction. Conservationists hope that through education, hard work, and effective legislation and enforcement of laws, the threat to our planet's endangered animals and plants can be arrested and reversed before any more unique life forms are lost.

Basic Terms, Definitions, and Concepts Related to Endangered Species

Extinction: The process or condition of a species dying out or ceasing to exist; sometimes referred to as "extinction in the wild" for species only existing in captivity.

Endangered: Facing an extremely high risk of extinction.

"The Sixth Event": A term used to describe a possible mass worldwide extinction of species due to humanity's impact through population growth; overhunting and overfishing; and habitat loss due to agriculture, pollution, and climate change. Five previous mass extinction events occurred during the Ordovician, Devonian, Permian, Triassic, and Cretaceous Periods.

Red List of Threatened Species: A list complied by the World Conservation Union (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, or IUCN) detailing the global conservation status and risk of extinction of thousands of species of animals and plants.

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