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Many countries seek to protect animal and plant species through legislative and policy measures. Such laws cover a range of conservation and restoration measures including protection of native species, removal of pest species, restrictions on export of animals, quarantine laws, habitat restoration and protection, prohibitions on hunting or farming, creation of parks and reserves, etc. The effectiveness of these measures varies and is largely dependent on the willingness of each country to implement and enforce the legislative provisions and policies in place.
Threats to other species
There are many threat sources bearing down on both animals and plants. Some of the major threats include:
- Human beings: Human activity and interference (both direct and indirect) is the largest threat to endangered species. Cutting down trees for agricultural land and human housing, killing animals for their fur or aphrodisiacs or because people are afraid of the animals, genetically modifying animals and plants, using animals as trophies, polluting the habitats (land, water bodies and sea; for example, acidification of lakes), implementing vast tracts of monoculture, heating the atmosphere, etc. are some of the ways in which human activities have negatively impacted on endangered species. Human beings are clever but cannot know everything about how interfering with evolution will play out and some processes of human selection of species for particular purposes has caused artificial extinctions., leaving gaps that cause a lot of problems for remaining wildlife and plants in the particular ecosystem.
- Climate change: By increasing the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere through human industrial activities, habitats are being permanently changed, making it harder for some species to thrive. For example, the melting of polar ice decreases the areas where polar bears can live and breed, while heavier rainfalls and extreme drought brought on by increases in greenhouse gases create floods, fires and other types of habitat destruction.
- Invasive species: Human beings have introduced many species to different parts of the world where the introduced species has caused problems for native species unused to the ways and strengths of the introduced species. Feral animals and invasive plants that thrive in their new environments often do so at the expense of local species. The dodo bird serves as a very well-known case of introduced species causing an animal species to go extinct; after humans arrived in Mauritius, they brought with them cats, rats, dogs and monkeys that all ended up preying on dodo birds and wiping them out.
- Agricultural practices: Run-off from farms into other areas of land and bodies of water plays a large role in threatening many terrestrial and aquatic species, carrying both disease and chemicals that animal and plant species are not able to cope with. Monocultural practices reduce the usual diversity experienced on land and increase the chances of disease. In turn, pesticides sprayed onto plants or genetically modified into plants create new dangers for other non-targeted, non-pest species who may be killed by the pesticides (such as Monarch butterflies, small mammals, etc.) or wild plants may be threatened by contamination from potential crossovers of genetic material that human beings have created.
- Illegal pet trade: Some animals are threatened by illegal purchases as pets, such as apes, monkeys and tropical birds. Many of these pets don't survive because people don't know how to take care of them properly, cannot provide the animals with essential food or infect the animals with human illnesses (this is a big problem in the case of apes).
- Poaching: Poaching of animals for food, medicinal preparations and trophies is a major problem. Many anti-poaching programs are in place but they are not always successful and there are many dangers to those protecting animals from poaching.
- Habitat destruction: Whether it's through farming, forestry, housing or other methods, destruction of habitat is a major force in decimating animal and plant species in most countries around the world. Lack of space is another major issue for many animal species, especially when human habitation encroaches on the animal's usual territory. This is a problem with large species, such as elephants, who can destroy crops, attack people during breeding season and destroy human structures. Many villagers feel the need to kill elephants out of fear.
Effects on the whole ecology
Removing a single animal species from the food chain tends to have alarming effects both down and up the food chain. There is a fine ecological balance between predator and prey species, and even within the plant kingdom. When certain animal or plant species are removed or become extinct, this can lead to other species growing out of control and dominating without threat to their increase in numbers. This can be to the great eventual disadvantage of the species that proliferates––for example, if lions were to go extinct, prey species such as antelopes and zebras would increase to over-capacity, eating plant life to the point of extinction and thereby risking the lives of other species through reduced food sources, reduced shade and reduced oxygen output.
The IUCN list
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has a special role in watching over endangered species. Its Species Survival Commission (SSC) tracks the status of all animal and plant species worldwide. It aims to provide conservation measures that can help national governments implement strategies to protect and conserve species.
Each year the SSC publishes the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. This list contains annually updated information on the status of all living species worldwide. This list can be found here: http://www.iucnredlist.org/.
The categories on the IUCN Red List are:
- Extinct: the last individual in the species has died
- Extinct in the wild: the species no longer survives in the wild but is still alive in captivity or breeding programs
- Critically endangered: the species is at extremely high risk of becoming extinct in the wild
- Endangered: a very high risk of extinction in the world
- Vulnerable: a high risk of extinction in the wild
- Near threatened: likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future
- Least concern: species available in abundance
- Data deficient: there is insufficient information about the distribution of the population of a species.
Controlling trade in endangered species is one important aspect of conserving them. CITES is short for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. It's an international agreement made at state level and the signatories seek to control the trade in endangered species of both animals and plants around the world, according to the provisions laid out in it. It has been in force since 1975 and many of the signatory countries take its implementation very seriously, incorporating it into border controls and quarantine practices, as well as enforcing it domestically. CITES provides a framework which national laws can use to guide the formation and enforcement of relevant endangered species trade laws.
The CITES secretariat closely monitors the illegal trades in endangered species.
National endangered species legislation and policies
Many countries have implemented endangered species legislation. For example, the US government passed the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973, a piece of legislation that has influenced legislation in many other countries. The aim of the ESA (and similar acts in other jurisdictions) is to protect endangered species and preserve their habitats. The ESA is enforced by both the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) - terrestrial and freshwater species, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) – marine species.
Animals in danger of extinction
Throughout there world, there are animals under threat of extinction in every continent and region. Apes, monkeys, large cats, the crocodilian family, turtles, lizards, snakes, elephants, zebras and antelopes, polar bears, whales and dolphins, marsupials, rhinos, wolves, sharks, seals, frogs and toads and even rodents are just some of the animal species under threat in different parts of the world.
What you can do
- Never buy products that use endangered species; tell your friends what to avoid too. Many governments have lists of endangered animals or plants often used in tourist or other products, check your national environment/customs/agricultural/foreign affairs, etc. departments for more details.
- Sign petitions to protect endangered species and make submissions to your local representatives and parliaments or legislatures about supporting existing and new conservation measures.
- Check out online sites devoted to endangered species so that you can learn more about the species and the sorts of things you might be able to get involved in (see some suggestions in the section below).
- Donate money, time and/or expertise to organisations devoted to the conservation and protection of endangered species; also look for NGOs and organisations that support livelihood initiatives targeted at people affected by conservation measures.
- Adopt a member of species of endangered animal through a zoo or other program; fund continued research and conservation measures.
- Volunteer on site with programs actively doing things to protect endangered species; look online for organisations involved in such volunteer work.
- Turn your garden back into a paradise of biodiversity––grow a variety of plants, let native animals forage and make use of your garden where it is safe to do so, etc. Also, remove invasive species from your garden and don't buy plants that are designated as pests or weeds, or anything that risks escaping the boundaries of your garden and taking over nearby land. Avoid using pesticides and herbicides––grow organically and find natural substitutes for chemicals.
- Avoid destroying habitat; whether you live in the city or on a farm, learn about the habitats of the animals in your area and be sure to avoid disturbing it. For example, leave hollow logs alone to provide homes for small animals and add nesting boxes to encourage birds back into habitat that was originally their own. If you do encourage birds, put decals on your windows to prevent them from hitting glass.
- Fund communities under pressure so that they can be freed from the necessity of destroying habitat just to survive––there are many organisations that will accept donations for this purpose.
- Join a conservation organisation or several and be a regular supporter; attend events held by them so that you can learn more about endangered species and spread the word among your friends and colleagues.
- When on vacation, camp and hike with consideration for wildlife; where paths have been made for human use, stick to these and avoid destroying vegetation. Take out all your mess when camping. And when driving anywhere that wildlife exists, slow down so that you don't hit animals that wander onto the road.
- Choose a career that will have you involved in conserving endangered species.
- Think of ways that you can restore or enhance the local environment over which you have responsibility so that wildlife can have an easier time surviving. For example, if you own a farm with a creek that salmon use, consider building filter bridges that keep the water clean and keeping livestock well away from such areas.
- Learn more about biodiversity of both plants and animals. Do an online search to find the places that are preserving diversity through active programs.
Organisations involved in conservation and protection of endangered species
There are many individuals, groups and organisations helping to conserve and protect endangered species, at local and community level, at regional and national levels and worldwide. Becoming involved in their activities can be as simple as tweeting about their activities to raise awareness or volunteering your time to go and do something on site. Here are just a few of the organisations you can check out online:
- World Wildlife Fund
- The Ocean Conservancy
- The Sea Shepherd
- Mountain Nature
- Earth Watch
- Friends of the Earth
- Care for the Wild
- Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
- Rainforest Alliance
- World Conservation Monitoring Center
- Durrell Wildlife
- Wild Aid
- Defenders of Wildlife
- Wildlife Conservation Society
- Wildlife Action Group
- Nature Conservancy
- Many zoos
- Wildlife parks, reserves, and other nature conservation zones being actively managed
- Captive breeding: This is the method by which a wild species is bred in captivity, such as a zoo or wildlife reserve, to try and increase the population of any given species under threat.
- Conservation: This refers to protecting animals or plants from harm or loss.
- Enforce: This refers to ensuring that legislative measures in an individual country or international measures between countries are actually implemented through threat of fine, jailing of responsible individuals or levying other penalties as relevant. Enforcement can occur through agencies tasked with wildlife or plant/habitat conservation, through police agencies, through citizen groups or other means.
- Poacher: Someone who takes animals either by illegally hunting or stealing.
- Vulnerable: Easily harmed by pressures on the species caused by humans, natural events or both.