Conservation and endangered species
What are endangered species?
When there aren’t very many of a certain type of animal left in the wild (in their natural habitat, outside a zoo), or if there is something happening that means many of that type of animal are finding it difficult to survive, it might become endangered. This means that certain things will be done to try to help that animal, and stop it from becoming extinct – when no more are left.
There are different levels of endangered species – some are only just a little bit threatened, while others may be almost extinct. Many countries have laws in place that protect endangered species through ways such as banning hunting, or taking the time to work out why the animals are struggling. The International Union for Conservation of Nature oversees conservation efforts that are carried out all over the world.
Top 10 facts
- Endangered species are animals that are in danger of becoming extinct, which means that there wouldn’t be any of that type of animal left in the world anymore.
- Animals of any shape, size and in any part of the world can become endangered because of many different reasons.
- Things that may put an animal at risk of being endangered include overhunting, growing sizes of cities, and using pesticides that can make the animals ill.
- Plants can become endangered too, and this can also happen because of changes in the environment.
- Not all endangered species are on the list – someone has to work out that a type of animal is in trouble before they are added to the list.
- What makes this even trickier is that we may not have discovered all of the plant and animal species out there – there could be species becoming extinct before we even know about them!
- Lots of different animals are linked together through the food chain, or just because they share a habitat. When one type of animal becomes extinct, it can affect others.
- There are thousands of endangered plant and animal species on the Red List, which is where all the information about endangered species is kept track of.
- One animal species that has become extinct is the dodo, which was a bird that couldn’t fly and that lived on the island of Mauritius.
- Visit your local zoo to find out more about animal conservation, and the work that’s being done to save different endangered species.
Did you know?
- If an animal is endangered, that means that there aren’t many of that kind of animal left and that the ones that are left are having trouble surviving.
- Plants can be endangered too – the term ‘endangered species’ can apply to both plants and animals.
- We can help endangered species through conservation. This means doing things – maybe even changing the way we do things – to make sure those plants and animals are protected.
- Zoos can play a big part in animal conservation. They work to keep different species happy and healthy, with the hope of on day releasing them back into their natural home in the wild. You can learn more about animal conservation from people who are working on it right now by visiting a zoo or aquarium near where you live.
- If a plant or animal becomes extinct, life just doesn’t go on as usual – for instance, if an animal used to always eat a certain kind of plant that no longer exists, then they have to find something else to eat. If they can’t find anything else they like as much, then that species of animal will have a hard time surviving. It’s all part of the food chain, and when you take one bit out of the chain it can take a while for the rest of it to figure out what to do.
- Some of the most endangered animals in the world include the giant panda, the Siberian tiger, the Sumatran rhinoceros, the right whale and the polar bear.
Have a look through the pictures in the gallery below and see if you can spot these endangered species and one that's already extinct:
- Giant Panda
- Siberian tiger and cub
- Sumatran rhinoceros
- Mountain gorilla
- Polar bear
- Northern right whale
- The dodo bird
There are thousands of endangered plant and animal species in the world. The International Union for Conservation of Nature keeps track of everything on the Red List, which also shows if a species is at risk of being threatened, if they are endangered, if they are almost extinct, if the last of their species is only kept in zoos, or if they have actually become extinct.
There are a few different reasons why animals become endangered, which means that it’s not something that only happens in one part of the world or to a few kinds of animals. These include:
- Climate change – the temperature in our world is getting hotter, meaning conditions change for animals like the polar bear who need there to be more ice in the Arctic.
- Loss of habitat – when humans need to move to new areas to build homes and villages, that means an animal somewhere has a little less space to live than they used to.
- Cutting down trees – lots of animals live in forests, and when the trees are gone then their forest home disappears.
- Over-hunting – this means that an animal that’s hunted for food doesn’t have enough left to replenish its population; for example, if everyone caught hundreds of fish in the same lake everyday, eventually there wouldn’t be any fish left in the lake because they’d all have been caught. But, if everyone took turns fishing and just caught just the few they needed, the fish would have a chance to reproduce.
- Poaching – this means hunting and killing animals illegally, such as killing a rhino for its ivory horn. Ivory is worth a lot of money, which is why poaching still happens.
Extinction hasn’t just started happening – it’s something that’s always happened. We just know more about it now than we used to. People didn’t really understand what it meant until 200 years ago, and now that it’s so easy to talk to each other because of the internet, people can work together more easily to help endangered species.
It’s also important to remember that we haven’t discovered all of the plant and animal species out there, and that endangered species are just the ones that we know about. There could be more insects, fish and flowers out there that are in danger of becoming extinct, but nobody’s found them yet!
One animal that has become famous because it is extinct is the dodo, a bird that lived on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. They were flightless – meaning they couldn’t fly – so they never really went anywhere else besides the island they lived on. There are many reasons why it became extinct, but some of those have to do with the fact that as more humans lived on Mauritius, they destroyed the dodos’ habitat and brought in animals that competed with the dodos for food and living space. In the end, the dodos just didn’t make it.
When the last dodos died, one of the plants on Mauritius began to die out too – the Calvaria tree. The dodo used to help in spreading the seeds around so new trees would grow, so when there weren’t any dodos around to do this, there weren’t any more new Calvaria trees. This shows how closely linked the food chain can be, and how big just one little change on one little island can be.
Conservation means more than just knowing that a species is endangered. It can mean figuring out why the plant or animal is struggling, starting a programme to keep a protected colony of that type of plant or animal alive while we work on repairing their habitat, or doing things that are good for the environment around us.
Just for fun...
- Polar bear games, information and even a polar bear webcam from the San Diego Zoo
- How much do you know about endangered animals? Test yourself with this quiz from National Geographic
- Download this game as a free app (Apple and Android) to learn about endangered animals and become a ‘top survivor’
- See how sustainable fishing is meant to work with this quick-thinking game – catch the fish to score points, but don’t catch the octopus, turtle or dolphin!
- Play loads of great online games on the WWF's Go Wild children's club website
- Try a conservation challenge: design a new giant panda habitat and balance the needs of the pandas, visitors and staff!
- Take the Protect the Planet Promise!
Books about conservation and endangered species for kids
See for yourself
The top 10 list of endangered species being protected through zoo programmes, from the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums
History: The dodo bird