What Is Conservation Status and Why Does It Matter?
Updated: Jul 8
by Natalie Rico
There are so many animals in the world in need of protection. How do we decide which have the most critical need? Currently, the best way is to review an animal’s conservation status. What is conservation status, you ask? Conservation Status is a hierarchical ranking, based on the severity of risk to a species’ population.
The world’s most authoritative listing of conservation status is the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (“IUCN”) Red List of Endangered Species.
“The IUCN Red List tells us where we ought to be concerned and where the urgent needs are to do something to prevent the despoliation of this world. It is a great agenda for the work of conservationists.” Sir David Attenborough
The IUCN’s Red List of Endangered Species was developed in 1964 and includes more than 116,000 species. The Red List assigns a species one of nine different categories. These categories are:
i. Extinct (EX)
A species is classified as extinct when there is not a reasonable
doubt that the last of that species has died.
ii. Extinct in the Wild (EW)
The classification Extinct in the Wild is given to animals that are known only by living members kept in captivity or as a naturalized population outside its range due to massive habitat loss.
iii. Critically Endangered (CR)
A critically endangered species is one considered to be facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.
iv. Endangered (EN)
An endangered species is one considered to be facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild.
v. Vulnerable (VU)
A vulnerable species is one considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.
vi. Near Threatened (NT)
A near threatened species is one that does not qualify for a threatened category (Vulnerable, Endangered, or Critically Endangered), but is close to or likely to qualify for one of these categories in the near future.
vii. Least Concern (LC)
A species is classified as Least Concern when it does not qualify as Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, or Critically Endangered.
viii. Data Deficient (DD)
A species is data deficient when there is insufficient data on the population or distribution of the species to make a determination.
ix. Not Evaluated (NE)
This classification is given to all species that have not yet undergone an assessment by the IUCN.
The IUCN red list establishes certain criteria by which the extinction risk of different species is evaluated. Species assessors for the IUCN include affiliated organizations such as Birdlife International, Conservation International, NatureServe, and the Zoological Society of London, to name a few. These organizations help in scientifically assessing the conservation status of different species using IUCN criteria.
These classifications are abundantly important for many reasons. First, they help focus efforts on those species that have the most immediate need. These efforts also assist in directing research. For examples, some species have gone unassessed due to a lack of data. Classifying a species as Data Deficient assists in identifying where research is lacking and directing research to those areas. Further, these classifications raise awareness to the plight of our earth’s most precious creatures. Finally, these categorizations can highlight the success of conservation efforts when an animal moves out of a Threatened category. Those are the days we work for!