National Geographic News
Brazilian Three-banded Armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus)

The Brazilian three-banded armadillo, which rolls into a ball when threatened, is classified as vulnerable.


Katie Langin

National Geographic

Published June 13, 2014

Entire branches of the tree of life are in danger of being wiped out: The majority of species in some groups of plants and animals are now on the "Red List" of the world's most threatened species.

The list, which is managed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and was updated this week, shows that among the groups most at risk are lemurs and temperate slipper orchids.

Found only in Madagascar, 90 of the 101 species of lemur are threatened with extinction, the IUCN said. More than 20 percent of these small primates are listed as being critically endangered, meaning that they have a very high risk of extinction in the wild. The main threat stems from illegal logging of tropical forests, which has accelerated in the island nation in recent years. (See video: "The Smallest Lemur.")

Adult Indri (Indri indri) (Endangered) feeding in rainforest canopy. Andasibe-Mantadia NP, east Madagascar. IUCN: Endangered.
The large-bodied indri—the largest species of lemur—is classified by the IUCN as critically endangered.

Temperate slipper orchids, whose slipper-shaped flowers make them a popular ornamental plant, face a similar fate, with 79 percent of species threatened with extinction, according to the IUCN. The flowers are found across North America, Europe, and Asia and are at risk because of habitat destruction and overcollection. (See: "Orchid flowers fool flat-footed flies by faking fungus-infected foliage.")

Picture of California Lady's Slipper flower.
The California lady's slipper, found only in California and Oregon, is classified by the IUCN as endangered.

"What was most surprising about this assessment was the degree of threat to these orchids," said Hassan Rankou, the IUCN Species Survival Commission's Red List Authority for the Orchid Specialist Group, which is hosted by the U.K.'s Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

"Although the industry is sustained by cultivated stock," he said, referring to the trade in orchids, "conservation of wild species is vital for its future." (See National Geographic's photos of orchids.)

In its latest update, the IUCN added a number of new species to its Red List and reassessed the conservation status of many species placed there years ago.

Five notable examples:

1. Japanese Eel

Picture of a Japanese eel.
The Japanese eel, the most expensive fish on the menu in Japan, is classified as endangered.

The Japanese eel was added to the IUCN's list with an endangered classification, meaning it has a high risk of extinction.

A delicacy in Japan, this commercially lucrative fish has been hard hit by a combination of overfishing, habitat loss, pollution, and changes in ocean currents. (See "Mystery Travelers" to learn more about eels.)

"While the status of this species is of great concern, the assessment of the Japanese eel and other eels is a hugely positive step," says Matthew Gollock, chair of the IUCN Anguillid Specialist Sub-Group.

"This information will allow us to prioritize conservation efforts for eel species and the freshwater ecosystem more broadly."

2. Brazilian Three-Banded Armadillo

The Brazilian three-banded armadillo—currently serving as the 2014 FIFA World Cup mascot—was reassessed by the IUCN team and remains vulnerable, meaning it has a high risk of becoming endangered.

The species has declined an estimated 30 percent in the past 10 to 15 years, primarily because of extensive conversion of its habitat in Brazil to sugarcane and soybean plantations.

3. Chinese Crocodile Lizard

The Chinese crocodile lizard, found only in China and Vietnam, was newly classified as endangered because the species is thought to have declined by 84 percent from 1978 to 2008 and only a few isolated populations remain.

One of the primary threats to the species comes from illegal hunting for the international pet trade, with habitat loss being an additional factor. (See "The Kingpin" to learn more about Asia's wildlife trade.)

4. Banana Orchid

The banana orchid, another new addition to the IUCN Red List and the national flower of the Cayman Islands, was classified as endangered because it is currently losing habitat at a rapid rate.

The dry forests and shrublands where it lives are being cleared to make way for housing and tourism development, and—unless conservation measures are taken—it is likely to lose 50 percent of its habitat within the next century.

5. Yarkon Bream

Due to successful conservation actions and reintroductions, the Yarkon Bream(Acanthobrama telavivensis) is no longer extinct in the Wild and has now been reassessed as vulnerable.
The Yarkon bream, found only in Israel, went from being extinct in the wild to vulnerable, according to the IUCN.

Not all of the changes to the Red List were negative, however. The Yarkon bream, a fish found in Israel, stands out as a conservation success story. The species jumped multiple levels on the IUCN classification system, going from extinct in the wild to vulnerable.

The Yarkon bream disappeared from the wild in 1999 after the only remaining individuals (120 of them) were saved from a riverbed that was drying up due to drought.

A successful captive breeding program was started at Tel Aviv University and, seven years later, 9,000 fish were released into their native habitat, where their descendants are thriving today.

Follow Katie Langin on Twitter.

Priyanka Chaurasia
Priyanka Chaurasia

Human should act as fixer rather than a destroyer. He is the only one responsible for destruction made to mother earth and he is the only one to reconstruct the damage he has caused before its too late... 

Vinko Stojic
Vinko Stojic

The humans are, so to say, on the top of the list (or they think they are),  of the earth's living population of all kinds, While the animals of all kinds kill only as much as they need to feed, people of some kinds destroy endangered species just to have an extravagant menu just like this japanese eel, or trophy to hang it on the wall. How can we stop them before they ruin the future of our next generations?

Dr Bob Rhoda
Dr Bob Rhoda

Human population growth is the most significant factor in species extension BUT, how do you fix that????

Most people point to the U.S.A. and say we "should control or reduce our population growth".


The last time I looked our growth rate was less that 1% of world population growth.  The U.S.A., even if we reduced our growth to a negative number, would have a negligible influence on overall growth.  Other countries, especially 3d world nations, have birth rates 6 or 8 times the rate of world population growth. 

Some suggest that population growth control needs to be instituted.  GOOD LUCK WITH THAT ONE!!.  Whenever that is suggested, the countries with the biggest problem scream GENOCIDE !!

So we just muddle along doing nothing about the problem.

We need to work on education, health care and other factors and show the rest of the world how controlling population is beneficial.  However, it may already be too late.

In most of the world, women are 2d or 3d class citizens.  They are 'baby making machines' and the more kids they produce the more prestige their husbands gain.  Until we fix that concept, we will just keep breeding ourselves off the planet.

Come to think of it, maybe that's best.  Then another species can give it a shot.

Fred Penrod
Fred Penrod

Andrew is right, of course, but limiting human population growth a topic that is considered outside the bounds of acceptable discourse, so it can't be discussed except by those considered to be on the lunatic fringe.  Is any mainstream politician mentioning it?  Not when an expanding consumer base is seen as a necessary precondition for increasing profits.  The more the merrier.  

One would think, however, that those people who are having children might be concerned about leaving them an impoverished, depleted, overcrowded world, but even that hasn't seemed an effective motivating factor with regard to environmental and species conservation.

Andrew Booth
Andrew Booth

The single underlying cause of almost all the world's problems - species extinction, global warming, desertification, deforestation, over-fishing, shortages of food, water, fuel etc - is the continually increasing human population. Yet that one problem just seems to be ignored! 

Only a bad doctor ignores a disease and just treats the symptoms. A good doctor knows to treat the disease and the symptoms will disappear. Yet we just seem to rush about fretting about how to cope with the symptoms of human population increase.   

Dwayne LaGrou
Dwayne LaGrou

We have a LONG way to go yet! It's people like the Ivory smugglers and the Bonobo eaters and the Tiger pelt buyers that are ruining it for the rest of us. It takes a surprising few people to do a TREMENDOUS amount of damage. As few as a dozen with guns and a vehicle can decimate an Elephant population in a single day for their Ivory! And that is just one species. There should be much stricter penalties for the amount of damage these people do. A relative slap on the wrist and they are right back in business. If they were jailed for 20 years or more that might start slowing the extinctions down!!!

Just a simple mans suggestion!?

John Carlson
John Carlson

How does this compare to the usual rate of extinction over the past however many million years?

Amanda A
Amanda A

@Dr Bob Rhoda Its not about population growth! Its the fact people keep expanding with new roads and new buildings and new subdivisions rather than creating more parks or just leaving forests and nature alone. 

Cynthia Carlson
Cynthia Carlson

@John Carlson The natural rate of extinction is one species a year for every million species on Earth. The current rate of extinction maybe as much as 10,000 times faster than the natural rate. Most scientists believe that we are in the Sixth Great Extinction, wholly human caused. In all of my readings and studies, I am convinced too. The situation is grim.

I teach free educational workshops on extinctions and endangered species. When I cover the reasons for the mass extinctions we are facing, I stress human population growth. We are pushing other species off the planet at a phenomenal rate. It is my hope to enlighten people and get them to care but more importantly tell others and take personal action.

Tom Petres
Tom Petres

@John Carlson  Actually John, species are disappearing  at a much more accelerated rate.  Biological diversity is plummeting so quickly that it has been suggested we are currently in the middle of, and the cause of, a mass extinction event. Much like what killed the dinosaurs, or even worse like the Permian extinction.

Sindie Brown
Sindie Brown

Mans greed for money is their 'God" I live in California and the open spaces we once had are gone....why do they keep building more and more homes. Their are plenty of homes already built but people want new homes at the huge cost of destroying The homes of the species that live there hence they are being wiped out..and for what? To live in a so called new home? The animals have know where to go and I'm sick and tired of reading how mountain lions , bobcats ,squirrels, lizard the list goes on and on ...are being wiped hell with Man,,,greedy Son of a B**** ...I hope their homes are destroyed and they have no where to go then perhaps man will get a taste of the own greed


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