It is estimated there are 8–10 million species on Earth. Of these, around two million have been formally described which, in simple terms means these species have been discovered, have been shown to be different from other species previously described and have been given a unique scientific name.
These are the scientifically named species.
Of these two million named species, over 120,000 have been assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature for their Red List of Threatened Species. A list which is commonly referred to as the IUCN Red List. The Red List was established in 1964 by the IUCN and is generally recognized as the most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of plant, animal and fungi species. According to the IUCN website, the IUCN Red List is updated at least twice each year.
IUCN Red List Categories
The IUCN Red List divides the status of species into nine categories:
1. Not Evaluated
2. Data Deficient
3. Least Concern
4. Near Threatened
7. Critically Endangered
8. Extinct in the Wild
However, the species that fall into the categories of Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable are also termed “threatened” species. These are the species on the IUCN Red List considered to be threatened with global extinction.
Of the 120,000 species listed on the 2020 version of the IUCN Red List over 32,000 species fall into this threatened category. This means that 27% of the species on the IUCN Red List are considered to be threatened with global extinction. This includes 41% of amphibians, 34% of conifers, 33% of reef building corals, 26% of mammals and 14% of the bird species listed.
How many species on Earth are actually threatened with extinction?
Though it may be hard to imagine that 32,000 of the species that humans currently share the planet with are at risk of extinction, it’s even harder to imagine the scenario if you extrapolate the 27% towards the estimated 8-10 million species on Earth. By doing so you wouldn’t have tens of thousands of species at risk of extinction, you wouldn’t even have hundreds of thousands of species at risk. Once you extrapolated the 27% to the millions of species yet to be discovered and assessed, then you would have over 2,700,000 million species on Earth that might be at risk of extinction.
But we don’t know how many species there are on Earth and therefore we don’t know how many species are at risk of extinction. We won’t know what those numbers until all the remaining species on Earth have been discovered, named and assessed. And since there are millions of species yet to be discovered, the process of discovering, naming and assessing those species will involve a great deal of time, money, scientific expertise, politics, technology and a host of other human activities; some known and some unknown. And those questions are at the heart of the unfolding story of extinction.
But do humans care enough about the other species to be willing to spend the time and resources needed to first discover them and then assess their conservation status?
That is highly unlikely.
So how can threatened species be saved?
So even though we may never know how many species are on Earth, and what their conservation status is, there is still a great deal that can be done to help the threatened species we do know about. The 2020 IUCN Red Lists points to over 32,000 species in danger of global extinction. So how can these threatened species be saved?
There are many activities that put a species at risk of extinction. It could be the impacts of illegal poaching or illegal wildlife trade. It could be the deregulation of environmental laws that were developed to protect the environment and ecosystem of a specific species. Or it could be the clearcutting of a tropical rainforest or the impact of overfishing in the Pacific Northwest. It could be the human desire for Traditional Asian Medicine that is impacting a species. Or it could be the overarching effect that climate change is having and will continue to have on species around the world.
These are just some of the activities that can negatively impact the survival of a threatened species. And these activities are a crucial part of the unfolding story of extinction.
Addressing the Issues Impacting Species
To address the issues negatively impacting species there is a great deal of effort is being made by governments and non-government organizations (NGO’s). This includes all the amazing work being conducted by the IUCN and its partner organizations and the countries that have signed on to the Paris Climate Accord. But the work being done by government and non-government organizations is only part of the effort being made to save species.
Other efforts include the creation of new technologies being developed by companies dedicated to creating environmentally friendly products. It includes the creation and implementation of a new conservation laws at a community, state or national level. It also includes the efforts being made by movie producers, artists and musicians who create works of art or songs that inspire individuals to take action to protect the environment or threatened species. And it includes all the content created and posted on social media platforms by individuals trying to inform or encourage people to care about the planet and the other species we share it with.
And certainly not to be overlooked are all the journalists and news organizations that strive to provide the public with the information and “real” facts individuals need to understand these important issues. Because it is only with real facts that individuals can understand these complex issues and then consider what actions they might want to take to help protect the environment or a species in danger of extinction.
What it comes down to.
The Unfolding Story of Extinction 2020 is as much about people as it is about the species in danger of extinction. On one side of the story are those people who care about the health of the planet and the survival of other species. On the other side are the people who don’t.
How this human interaction plays out will determine if any of the 32,000 threatened species on the IUCN Red List will be saved from extinction.