The International Union for the Conservation of Nature defines an endangered species as follows: “A taxon is Endangered when it is… facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future.” The IUCN uses specific criteria to decide whether this applies to a particular species. These criteria include evidence for rarity, population declines and the types and severity of threats, and determine whether a species is globally endangered. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has adapted the IUCN criteria for use in assessing species and populations within Canada, and similar processes are followed within each province to determine provincial listings of species at risk.
A few weeks ago, I visited a Grade 3 class in Toronto to talk about conservation biology as part of a class unit on Animal Adaptations. The class had been thinking a lot about why adaptations mean, and what happens when the environment to which a species has adapted undergoes a sudden change. We had a great conversation about environmental changes, and about why conservation research is necessary.
The front window of the classroom was covered in work inspired by the unit, and this piece in particular caught my eye:
I love this definition. It captures the point of the IUCN category – endangered means likely to approach extinction – but it also highlights the fact that conservation of biodiversity is a choice. We can choose to let species “get extinct”, or we can choose to “do something about it”. Our own health and survival are tied to preserving biodiversity and functional ecosystems. Maybe we can’t save every species, habitat and wild space out there, but as Shoshana’s definition reminds us, we can choose to try.