An endangered animals is one that is in danger of totally disappearing from the Earth forever! This total annihilation is called extinction.
Extinction means that there are no more of a particular type of plant or animal living on the earth — they are extinct. A clear example of extinction are the dinosaurs. They disappeared from the face of the earth 65 million years ago. Extinction is an ongoing process of evolution. It is estimated that over 90% of all animals that ever lived, since life began on the earth, are now extinct. Extinction is usually a slow process that takes many hundreds if not thousands of years.
In recent time however, due to human activities, the number of species becoming extinct has accelerated at an alarming rate. Some species have become extinct in just a few years.
In Australia the Tasmanian tiger became extinct in just 100 years after European settlement. Similarly in America, the passenger pigeon, which once numbered in the hundred of millions, became extinct in less than a hundred year because of indiscriminate hunting by European settlers.
Remember once they are gone, they are gone forever. That is extinction or to be extinct.
Many conservation organisations have their own classification criteria for determining a species extinction threat level. Everybody agrees on what extinction is, but they differ in their identification of the various stages leading to extinction.
The world-wide organisation for determining the status of an animal species is the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This body regularly publishes its Red List of Threatened Species. In Australia, various federal and state environmental protection agencies also publish their own lists. The Australian Department of the Environment Endangered Australian Animals List identifies many Australian native animals are endangered and threatened with extinction.
The diagram on the left is a simplified version of the IUCN classifications. Basically there are three main categories. They range from Least Concern through Threatened to Extinct. The IUCN classification bundles Critical, Endangered and Vulnerable into a broader more general category labelled Threatened.
The general public and the media however seem to prefer the more evocative term "endangered' to mean threatened. We too prefer the term 'endangered', to mean these animal are in imminent danger of disappearing from the face of the earth.
An endangered species is a group of wild animals or plants that are in danger of becoming extinct, totally disappearing from the Earth permanently.
Animals and plants risk becoming endangered and eventually extinct because of circumstances they cannot cope with. These include natural disasters, climate change, human impacts, competition from introduced animals and disease.
Cataclysmic events have occurred throughout the earth’s history. Sixty-five million years ago an asteroid killed the dinosaurs. The desertification of the Sahara and the drying up of Africa similarly had significant effects on species survival. These are naturally occurring events.
Changes in the world’s climate brought about by natural or human induced changes can seriously affect the viability of animal species. For example global warming and the consequent melting of the polar ice caps are threatening the future of polar bears. Closer to home, changes in sea temperature are believed to be contributing the death of vast tracts of coral on the Great Barrier Reef.
In recent time, with the growth in human populations and technology, the man-made contribution to species endangerment and annihilation has increased tremendously. We have contributed to species extinction by large scale habitat destruction and modification by agriculture, mining and urban growth, land clearing, destroying forests and the pollution of waterways, rivers and the world’s oceans. Many animal species have also been significantly impacted by human commercial, recreational and other activities. These include commercial and recreational hunting, over-harvesting as in the case of fishing and whaling. For example the koala almost became extinct because it was killed for its fur and the Tasmanian tiger was considered a pest and hunted to extinction.
Many animals were introduced to into local environments without due consideration to their impact on local fauna. Cane toads, rabbits, red foxes and feral cats for example have become invasive and killed or displaced many native Australian animals.
Native animals also fall foul of diseases. For example, in recent time, koalas have been affected by chlamydia epidemics which has left many female kolas sterile. The Tasmanian Devil Tumour Disease has wiped out large numbers of the Tasmanian devil.
According to the Australian Department of the Environment's Endangered Australian Animals List many Australian native animals are endangered and threatened with extinction. For example; even the cuddly koala is listed as vulnerable, the cassowary and night parrot are listed as endangered and the gouldian finch and the 'bum breathing' white-throated snapping turtle as critical.
Since the arrival of European settlers in 1788 Australia has lost numerous native animals and plants. The Tasmanian Tiger is a prominent example of a recently extinct Australian animal. The last died in captivity in 1936.