We’ve heard about the plight of the endangered black rhinoceros, mountain gorilla, snow leopard and other endangered creatures since kindergarten, but how does an animal receive its conservation status?

Least Concern

If an animal is listed as “Least Concern” by the ICUN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), it simply means that there is an abundant number of the creature found in the wild, and there is no current threat that may otherwise challenge its relatively high population. Examples include the warthog, American alligator and greater flamingo.

Near Threatened

Animals labeled as “Near Threatened” are estimated to be threatened with extinction in the near future, but otherwise their populations are still strong enough to prevent a protected status. Examples include the green salamander, leopard and emperor goose.

Vulnerable

“Vulnerable” species are likely to become endangered species if its population has had a noticeable decline over three generations or by 20% over a decade, with a chance of eventually becoming extinct if things don’t turn around. Examples include the African lion, African bush elephant and dwarf crocodile.

Endangered

Simply put, an “Endangered” species has a serious risk of becoming extinct in the near future if its population shows the same decreasing trend. Each endangered species has a comparatively small number of living individuals, and examples include the blue whale, giant panda and chimpanzee.

Critically Endangered

See the notes for endangered above, but note that “Critically Endangered” species are the most at risk animals on the planet for extinction. Examples of these rare animals include the Sumatran orangutan, Javan rhinoceros and kakapo.

Extinct in the Wild / Extinct

The most severe listing the ICUN can give to a surviving species is the “Extinct in the Wild” label, which means that there are no populations of the species on Earth outside of captivity. For instance, the scimitar oryx can only be found in zoos and reserves. When an animal is “Extinct,” it means that every last individual on Earth is dead. Examples include the dodo, stegosaurus and wooly mammoth.

Sources: ICUN Red List, ICUN Red List Categories and Criteria

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