Once upon a time, a long time ago, a man called Noah got a message to build a huge boat on the top of a mountain, and fill it with animals, two of each species. We probably all know of this story, and it was said to be a way to conserve all animals at a time when a flood disaster was going to wipe everything off the planet.

Bear with me. Most of us today are now aware that there are certain animals – and plants for that matter – that are endangered or already missing for one reason or another (and nothing to do with Noah), usually because of Man’s interference - but not always - and they now have been included on the IUCN Red List in an effort to conserve them again.

We need another Ark, metaphorically speaking, and this is where the IUCN Red List comes in. It has taken years for us to realise that certain species have disappeared forever, and steps should be taken to preserve what we have left. Established in 1964, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUICN) Red List of Threatened Species has evolved to become the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global extinction risk status of animal, fungus and plant species. It uses a set of precise criteria to evaluate the extinction risk of thousands of species and subspecies, and these criteria are relevant to all species and all regions of the world.

Their Categories and Criteria are intended to be an easily understood system for classifying species at high risk of global extinction. It divides species into nine categories, from the least vulnerable to, well, not here anymore - Not Evaluated, Data Deficient, Least Concern, Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct in the Wild and Extinct.

To date, many species groups - including mammals, amphibians, birds, reef-building corals and conifers - have been assessed. As well as looking at newly recognized species, they also re-assess the status of some existing species, sometimes with good news, such as the downlisting of a few species on the categories scale, perhaps due to conservation efforts. The bad news, however, is that biodiversity is declining.

Barometer of Life

In much the same way as a barometer measures atmospheric pressure for assessing weather conditions, The IUCN Red List measures the pressures acting on species, which guides and informs conservation actions to help prevent extinctions, and the list is therefore often referred to as a Barometer of Life.

Who decides what goes on it?

The IUCN rely on assessors (trained individuals, usually species experts) to assess species based on currently available data and information. This comes from a range of sources, including scientific papers, books, reports, expert knowledge, indigenous knowledge and citizen science gained from communities gathering information. They review and check the assessments carefully before publishing them on their website.

Why are Least Concern species included on The IUCN Red List?

Although these have a lower risk of extinction, they are still important in terms of global biodiversity. Some Least Concern species are undergoing slow declines, and it is important to monitor these species and to develop appropriate conservation actions to prevent them from becoming threatened in the future.

What if the species I am looking for is not on The IUCN Red List website?

Currently, there are estimated to be more than 2 million described species living on Earth, of which less than 10% have been assessed for the Red List. If a species is not on the website, it is treated as Not Evaluated.

According to their website, more than 42,100 species are threatened with extinction. That is still 28% of all assessed species. Over 150,000 species have been assessed so far, and their current aim is to assess around a further 10,000 more, and sure as ‘eggs is eggs’, all these lists will waver and falter as time goes by.

Isn’t it time we sat up and took a bit more notice?