In recent years, news outlets have carried stories on increased extinction rates among animals, the greatly increased number of endangered species, and the thousands of animal species that are now considered threatened. Many find themselves unsure about the differences between these terms. The differences between extinct and endangered animals are significant, but the differences between endangered and threatened are those of degree.
An extinct animal species is a species of animal with no living members. Extinct species range from long-departed animals like the dinosaurs to recently extinct animals like Costa Rica's Golden Toad. Extinct species have no natural path to re-existence. Scientists have attempted to clone several extinct species, but have not successfully produced a cloned extinct animal capable of living to adulthood. Additionally, there are species of animals known as "extinct in the wild," meaning that the only living specimens are in human captivity.
An endangered animal species is a species of animal considered to have a high risk of becoming extinct in the near future. There are numerous international organizations and national laws that define "endangered" in different ways. International conservation groups tend to list a wider range of animals as endangered than national governments, both because of the slower process of government agencies and the economic incentives to keep certain species from being protected. Examples of endangered species include gorillas, blue whales and Siberian tigers.
The definition of "threatened," like that of "endangered," varies by the organization. In the United States, the Endangered Species Act provides the legal distinction. Threatened species are considered imperiled but in less immediate danger of extinction and are given fewer protections under the law. Species are frequently upgraded to "endangered" or downgraded to "threatened" depending on their health and viability. Examples of threatened species include grizzly bears, the bald eagle and the longhorn beetle.
Animals Currently Safe
Despite the environmental pressures on many ecosystems, some animals have shown the ability to weather these threats. While there is no guarantee these animals will not some day become threatened, endangered or even extinct, international organizations and governments do not considered them in any imminent danger of extinction. Examples of animals currently safe include brown bears, red-tailed hawks and emperor penguins.
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