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International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN - The World Conservation Union)

The IUCN is one of the world's oldest international conservation organizations. It was established in Fountainbleau, France, on October 5, 1947. It is a worldwide alliance of governments, government agencies, and nongovernmental organizations. Working with scientists and experts, the IUCN tires to encourage and assist nations and societies around the world to conserve nature and to use natural resources wisely. At present, IUCN members represent 74 governments, 105 government agencies, and more than 700 nongovernmental organizations.

The IUCN has six volunteer commissions. The largest and most active of these is the Species Survival Commission (SSC). The mission of the SSC is to conserve biological diversity by developing programs that help save, restore, and manage species and their habitats. One of the many activities of the SSC is the production of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals and the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants.

These publications, which have provided the foundation for Endangered Species, present scientifically based information on the status of threatened species around the world. Species are classified according to their existence in the wild and the current threats to that existence. The categories differ slightly between animals and plants.

IUCN Red List categories

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals places threatened animals into one of nine categories:

  • Extinct: A species that no longer exists anywhere around the world.
  • Extinct in the wild: A species that no longer exists in the wild, but exists in captivity or in an area well outside its natural range.
  • Critically endangered: A species that is facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future.
  • Endangered: A species that is facing a high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future.
  • Vulnerable: A species that is facing a high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium-term future.
  • Lower risk: Conservation dependent: A species that is currently the focus of a conservation program. If the program is halted, the species would suffer and would qualify for one of the threatened categories above within a period of five years.
  • Lower risk: Near threatened: A species that does not qualify for Conservation Dependent status, but is close to qualifying for Vulnerable status.
  • Data deficient: A species on which there is little information to assess its risk of extinction. Because of the possibility that future research will place the species in a threatened category, more information is required.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants places threatened plants into one of six categories:

  • Extinct: A species that no longer exists anywhere around the world.
  • Extinct/Endangered: A species that is considered possibly to be extinct in the wild.
  • Endangered: A species that is in immediate danger of extinction if the factors threatening it continue.
  • Vulnerable: A species that will likely become endangered if the factors threatening it continue.
  • Rare: A species with a small world population that is currently neither endangered nor threatened, but is at risk.
  • Indeterminate: A species that is threatened, but on which there is not enough information to place it in the appropriate category of Extinct, Endangered, Vulnerable, or Rare.

Source: Endangered Species, U·X·L. 2003.

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