An endangered species is one whose numbers are so small that it is at risk of extinction.
A threatened species is one that is vulnerable of becoming endangered in the near future.
In January 2013, the Fish and Wildlife Services reported 2,054 species worldwide that are endangered or threatened. 1,436 exist in the U.S. alone.
A species is declared extinct after many years of not being spotted. Because it takes so long to define an entire species as extinct, it is probable that there are many species already gone that we are unaware of.
A species is defined as endangered or threatened when it is compared against these five factors:
Damage to or destruction of its habitat
Overuse of the species for educational, recreational, or entertainment purposes
Disease or predation of the species
Lack of protection
Natural or manmade hazards to the continued life of the species
The Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) protects registered endangered species by removing them from the “take” list, which makes it unlawful for a person to shoot, harm, capture, trap, or attempt any such actions to the species.
Ultimately, the ESA strives to recover species from the endangered list by restoring their ecological health until they no longer need protection.
Factors that threaten the earth’s creatures include deforestation, bycatch (the unintentional capturing of sea creatures during fishing), water scarcity, erosion, pollution, climate change, pirate fishing, overfishing, oil and gas development, infrastructure, and illegal wildlife trade.
The World Wildlife Organization focuses on saving certain species that help sustain other species. They protect wildlife such as pandas, whales, rhinos, marine turtles, primates, polar bears, and big cats.
As estimated 50 percent of all endangered species live in the rainforest. The planet’s largest rainforest –The Amazon – lost more than 17 percent of its forest cover in the last century due to human activity.
Freshwater ecosystems are home to more than 100,000 known species of plants and animals, and are now one of the most endangered habitats in the world as a result of human development, pollution, and climate change.