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What does being extinct mean?

Dead as a dodo

We are always hearing about extinct and endangered animals, but do you know what these terms actually mean?

So, what is extinction?

Extinction of a particular animal or plant species occurs when there are no more individuals of that species alive anywhere in the world - the species has died out. This is a natural part of evolution.

But sometimes extinctions happen at a much faster rate than usual. For example, at the end of the Cretaceous period 65 million years ago, a mass extinction caused the death of many different types of animals and plants, including the dinosaurs.

Dinosaur Today human intervention is also causing rapid extinction. Hunting, habitat destruction and the over exploitation of wildlife means that many different types of plants and animals are being pushed to the edge of extinction. It is this type of extinction, caused by humans, that we deal with in these pages.

Well, what is an endangered animal then?

Endangered animals and plants are at risk of extinction - there are so few of them that they might soon be wiped out altogether. Although some plants and animals have always evolved more successfully than others, human activity is changing the world in such a way that many more animals and plants are endangered than would otherwise be.

Find out about the extinct and endangered animals in the Museum.

Hilda the hippo Dodo
Coelacanth
Thylacine
Blue whale
Golden toad
Giant panda
Passenger pigeon
Schaus' swallowtail

Go to the Homepage to find out about hippos and the causes of extinction.