We know that conservationists can use some pretty tough jargon. We’re sorry – we’re scientists so we sometimes find it hard to weed out the technical words.
This page should help to illuminate any phrases that you might not be so familiar with, or those that you’ve heard but aren’t quite sure what exactly they mean.
IUCN and the IUCN Red List
IUCN – the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a network of experts from government, NGO and academia.
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species – the definitive list of globally threatened species, which is updated every year. See list of categories below.
EXTINCT – there is no reasonable doubt that the last individual of the species has died.
EXTINCT IN THE WILD – the species is known only to survive in cultivation, in captivity or as a naturalized population (or populations) well outside the past range.
CARRYING CAPACITY – the maximum number of individuals (of a particular species) that can be supported indefinitely in a given environment.
CRITICALLY ENDANGERED – the species faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.
ENDANGERED – the species faces a very high risk of extinction in the wild.
VULNERABLE – the species faces a high risk of extinction in the wild.
NEAR THREATENED – The species is close to qualifying for or is likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future.
Download the full IUCN Categories and Criteria definitions (PDF)
Other words and terms explained:
Agroforestry – the managed use of woody perennials (trees, shrubs, bamboo, etc.) within agricultural or pastoral land use systems.
Biodiversity – the variety of life on Earth. This can range in scale, from genetic diversity to species diversity to diversity within an ecosystem.
Camera trap – a camera which is triggered to take photos by a motion-sensitive sensor. It enables conservationists to monitor wildlife in a natural habitat without having to disturb the animals with human presence.
Capacity building – the process of developing the knowledge and skills within individuals and institutions to enable them to effectively carry out conservation.
Captive-bred – born and raised in a zoo or a research or breeding centre, not in the wild.
CITES – The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. An international agreement between governments that aims to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival.
Community ranger – someone from a local community who has been hired to patrol an area of habitat with a remit to monitor wildlife and protect it from illegal or harmful activities
Community forest – generally refers to forest which is either legally owned by a community or the community has traditional use of the forest
Ecosystem – a system formed by the interaction of a community of organisms with their physical environment.
Ecosystem services – the resources and processes supplied by ecosystems. These are broken down into Provisioning services (such as food and freshwater) Regulating services (such as climate regulation), Supporting services (such as nutrient cycling), and Cultural services (such as recreation).
Empowerment - the process of gaining power over decisions and resources.
Ex situ – out of the wild, i.e. in a captive breeding centre or zoo
Flagship species – high profile and charismatic species that may play a significant ecological role and often have important cultural associations. Flagship species act as symbols for the threats to the broader ecosystem in which they occur, and can thus provide a catalyst for wide-ranging conservation activities.
Governance – who makes decisions and how. It concerns power, relationships and accountability: who has influence, whose voice is heard, how decisions are made and resources allocated, and how decision-makers are held to account
Habitat – the type of environment in which an organism or group normally lives or occurs.
Human-wildlife conflict – either direct or indirect conflict between animals and humans. It can range from elephants trampling and eating crops to humans and snow leopards competing for the same species of prey.
In situ – in the wild, i.e. in the species’ natural habitat
Institutional frameworks – the systems of formal and informal rules that affect people’s behaviour. Examples include social norms, taboos, traditions, and codes of conduct as well as formal regulations, laws and policies.
Keystone species – a species which plays a vital role in the ecosystem and has a disproportionate effect on its environment relative to its biomass.
Livelihoods - comprises the capabilities, assets (both material and social) and activities required for a means of living. A livelihood is sustainable when it can cope with and recover from stresses and shocks and maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets both now and in the future, whilst not undermining the natural resource base.
Mega fauna – literally a ‘large animal’. It signifies a large mammal over 100lbs, such as an elephant or rhinoceros.
Mosaic (when referring to habitat) – an area or a site made up of multiple habitat types
NGO – nongovernmental organisation. NGOs range from small grass roots community group to large multimillion dollar non-profits.
Organic – a type of farming – or a product which was grown on a farm – that avoids use of chemicals, artificial fertilizers and genetically modified crops and often employs natural methods such as crop rotation.
Pilot (when referring to project) – a small project to trial a new method or system
Poaching – illegal hunting, often referred to in a protected area
Population (when referring to a species) – a group of organisms of one species that interbreed and live in the same place at the same time (e.g. deer population).
Species – a group of individual whose members can breed and create viable offspring
Subspecies – a group of individuals that is a division of a species; usually arises as a consequence of geographical isolation within a species
Sustainable – able to be maintained indefinitely, often referred to in regards to resource use
Ungulates – hooved mammals such as antelopes or elephants
If you see any other words on our site that you think should be on this glossary page, please email them over! You can send a short email to email@example.com
and we’ll be sure to get them up.