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Endangered Species 101

written by: JenniferB•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 3/31/2009

We hear a lot about endangered species in the news, but what exactly constitutes an endangered species? Find out just how endangered species are classified and more, here!

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    How are Endangered Species Classified?

    Cute polar bears struggling to stay adrift amidst melting ice. Mountain gorillas eating leaves while trying to steer clear of poachers. These images and more come to mind when we think of threatened or endangered animals. With an impending election and mounting pressure to acknowledge global threats to biodiversity, it's as important as ever to understand endangered species.

    Efforts to save and preserve biodiversity involve a wide variety of approaches. The most important aspect is to study and understand the life history and ecology of an organism. Knowing the details of how it interacts with its environment, predators and prey allows a scientist to create methods that can successfully promote and sustain a population of a given species.

    The primary causes of endangerment are habitat loss, exploitation and the introduction of exotic species. Several international organizations work to prevent the extinction of organisms. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates that by the year 2010, at least 500,000 species of plants and animals may have been exterminated. The IUCN classifies species in danger of extinction into four categories: vulnerable (VU),endangered (EN), critically endangered (CR), and extinct in the wild (EW). Those species classified as vulnerable are those whose chance of survival is unlikely if the conditions that threaten their extinction continue. These organisms need critical action by people to preserve them, or they will become eradicated. Endangered species are thos that have decreasing populations and will be become endangered unless the factors causing population decline are eliminated. Critically endangered species are primarily those that have small worldwide populations and could be at risk of extinction in the near future. Extinct in the wild refers to species that are believed to no longer be in existence in their natural habitat or outside of captivity.

    The United States passed its own measure of endangered species classification with the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA). The act provides for the conservation of species that are endangered or threatened throughout all or a significant portion of their range, and the conservation of the ecosystems on which they depend.

    There are approximately 1,925 total species listed under the ESA. Of these species, approximately 1,350 are found in part or entirely in the U.S. and its waters; the remainder are foreign species. The US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service are responsible for implementing conservation and monitoring strategies for threatened and endangered species in the United States.

    Check out the internet to learn about endangered animals near you. Be sure to keep up a green lifestyle that promotes the preservation of critical habitats that are home to many of our endangered animals.