A rare European lynx is rebounding from near extinction. African lions remain vulnerable, and 99 percent of wild Asian orchids are critically endangered.
These were some of the updates to the Red List of Threatened Species, announced on Tuesday. The International Union for Conservation of Nature maintains the list, one of the world’s most comprehensive guides to the health of global biodiversity; it provides data on 77,340 species of animals and plants.
No extinctions were announced, and there were a few cheering success stories. But they stood out for how unusual they were in the bigger picture.
So, Why Should You Care? Researchers from UC Berkeley, Stanford, Princeton, and Duke have confirmed that Earth is experiencing its sixth mass extinction (the fifth occurred 65 million years ago). Many thousands of species remain under existential pressure, the IUCN said, and things won’t get better until there is more and stronger action to preserve biodiversity worldwide.
“It is encouraging to see several species improve in status due to conservation action,” said Jane Smart of the IUCN in a statement. “However, this update shows that we are still seeing devastating losses in species populations…. [W]e must act now to develop stronger policy and on-the-ground conservation programs to protect species and halt their declines.”
Wild plants and animals on the Red List are tagged along a seven-point scale, from “least concern” to “extinct.” Any species assessed as “critically endangered,” “endangered,” or “vulnerable” is at near-term risk of extinction in the wild. Those on the lower end of the ratings scale are in less danger of disappearing but still need to be watched closely and protected.
Among the plants on the Red List update, over-collection by humans has pushed 44 species of Indian medicinal plants to "critically endangered" status, along with nearly every one of the 84 species of tropical Asian slipper orchids. Loss of habitat has pushed Haiti’s Magnolia emarginata evergreen tree and 10 orchid species native to Madagascar nearer to extinction.
Explore this photo gallery to see some of the animal species that are coming back from near extinction thanks to active conservation and recovery efforts—and others that are sliding closer to permanent disappearance.