Tag Archives: iucn

Despite some success stories, we’re still causing a major extinction, IUCN report shows

A concerning number of the world’s plant and animal species are at risk of extinction, according to the latest update of the IUCN Red List, an account of threatened species carried out by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Still, not all is lost: there are some notable success stories this year, showing that there are still ways to promote conservation.

The tucuxi, a freshwater dolphin now listed as threatened. Credit image IUCN

There are now 128,918 species on the IUCN Red List, of which 35,765 are threatened with extinction, or almost 30%. These include, for example, about one-third of all oak trees, 40% of all amphibians, and all the world’s freshwater dolphins. With this new update, 31 additional species were moved into the Extinct category of IUCN — meaning they are virtually extinct in the wild.

“The growing list of extinct species is a stark reminder that conservation efforts must urgently expand,” Bruno Oberle, IUCN’s director-general, said in a statement. “To tackle global threats such as unsustainable fisheries, land clearing for agriculture, and invasive species, conservation needs to happen around the world.”

The species now declared extinct by IUCN include 15 freshwater fish species endemic to Lake Lanao and its outlet in the Philippines, three Central American frog species, three Macadamia species of protea (a genus of South African flowering plants) family, nine Asian oak species, and the recently-discovered lost shark.

The frogs were driven to extinction by a deadly fungal disease known as chytridiomycosis, which has been linked to international trade routes. There are also other 22 frog species listed as critically endangered across Central and South America. Meanwhile, freshwater fish species were most affected by predatory introduced species and over-fishing activities.

The lost shark, formally described only last year, is considered likely extinct by IUCN. This is because its habitat, the South China Sea, has been extensively fished for more than a century and remains one of the most overexploited marine areas in the world, and experts believe it would have been very difficult for the species to survive this sustained pressure.

The IUCN also moved the tucuxi dolphin from data deficient to endangered, which means that all of the world’s freshwater dolphin species are now listed as threatened or worse. The tucuxi, found in the Amazon river system, has been severely depleted by incidental mortality in fishing gear, damming of rivers, and pollution.

Plants are also not spared by this assault. The IUCN sounded the alarm on the wild progenitor of the farmed macadamia nut, as three wild macadamia species are now threatened with extinction. The discovery comes from a comprehensive assessment of the Protea family of flowering plants of the southern hemisphere.

“Seeing so many species joining the Extinct category, many of which have only just been discovered is heart-breaking. The Red List is a vital tool that helps us understand the pressures facing the diversity of life and therefore the conservation responses needed,” said Dr. Andrew Terry, Director of Conservation and Policy at ZSL.

Conservation efforts

The most recent update of the Red List is also proof that conservation efforts really pay off. The wild population of the European bison went from around 1,800 in 2003 to over 6,200 in 2019, justifying the move from vulnerable to the less serious near threatened category. The recovery is regarded as a “conservation success story” — one of the very few.

The European bison. Image credit IUCN

The species survived only in captivity in the early 20th century and was reintroduced to the wild in the 1950s. The largest subpopulations are now found in Poland, Belarus, and Russia. There are currently 47 free-ranging European bison herds. However, herds are largely isolated from one another and confined to non-optimal forest habitats.

“To reduce the conflict risk and the bison’s dependence on supplementary feeding, it will be important to create protected areas that include open meadows for them to graze”, said in a statement Dr. Rafał Kowalczyk, co-author of the new assessment and member of the IUCN SSC Bison Specialist Group.

If we want more success stories like the bison’s, we need not only targeted and active conservation efforts — but also systemic changes in society. In addition to the local pressures most often posed by human society, global pressure such as climate heating or plastic pollution are also taxing on many species.

Giraffes quietly dropped down to ‘Endangered list’

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recently updated its Red List of Threatened Species. Two giraffe subspecies are now listed as critically endangered, and one as endangered.

Image credits: Rex Boggs / Flickr.

Giraffes are some of the most bizarre creatures on Earth — and they’re also some of the most popular ones. Over the past few years, giraffes have been undergoing a ‘silent extinction’ — although populations in some areas are growing slightly, others are declining at an alarming rate. Until 2016, all giraffe populations were classified as ‘least concern’, but later that year, the global Red List of threatened species classified them as ‘vulnerable’, which means that the population has declined by more than 30% over the past three generations. Since then, things have only gotten worse.

There are 9 subspecies of giraffes. Out of them, one is stable and two are improving slightly. The other five are declining at an alarming rate. The culprits are quite familiar: the rapid growth of human populations and intensive agriculture has led to massive habitat destruction and fragmentation. However, civil war has also taken a massive toll.

“In these war torn areas, in northern Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia in the border area with South Sudan, essentially the giraffes are war fodder, a large animal, extremely curious that can feed a lot of people,” Dr. Julian Fennessy, who co-chairs the IUCN giraffe specialist group, told the BBC.

Unfortunately, there is little conservationists can do to limit the effects of this war, although conservation campaigns can still be successful. However, there is a general lack of awareness, Fennessy adds.

“Whilst giraffe are commonly seen on safari, in the media, and in zoos, people – including conservationists – are unaware that these majestic animals are undergoing a silent extinction. While giraffe populations in southern Africa are doing just fine, the world’s tallest animal is under severe pressure in some of its core ranges across East, Central and West Africa. It may come as a shock that three of the currently recognised nine subspecies are now considered ‘Critically Endangered’ or ‘Endangered’, but we have been sounding the alarm for a few years now,” Fennessy added in a separate press release.

To make matters even more complicated, while the IUCN considers giraffes to be one species with nine subspecies, recent genetic analyses have found that there are four distinct species of giraffe — with potentially “immense” consequences for conservation.

The Northern giraffe Giraffa camelopardalis (which includes the ‘Critically Endangered’ Kordofan and Nubian giraffe, and the ‘Vulnerable’ West African giraffe) and Reticulated giraffe Giraffa reticulata can be considered some of the most threatened large mammals in the wild, with less than 5,200 and 15,785 individuals remaining in the wild, respectively.

 “Working collaboratively with governments and other partners, we feel that our proactive measures are saving giraffe in some areas before it is too late,” said Arthur Muneza, the East-Africa Coordinator of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation.

Sprinting towards extinction: cheetahs number plunge

The world’s fastest land animal and one of the planet’s most popular creatures, the cheetah, is silently moving closer to extinction. Just 7,100 cheetahs remain, largely due to humans destroying their habitats.

Cheetahs face a rocky future. Image credits: Zoological Society of London

The new study led by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), Panthera and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) found that cheetahs have been kicked out of 91% of their historic range. No population has remained unharmed, but those in Asia have been hit the hardest. Just 50 cheetahs remain in an isolated pocket in Iran.

Dr. Sarah Durant, ZSL/WCS lead author and Project Leader for the Rangewide Conservation Program for Cheetah and African Wild Dog, said:

“This study represents the most comprehensive analysis of cheetah status to date. Given the secretive nature of this elusive cat, it has been difficult to gather hard information on the species, leading to its plight being overlooked. Our findings show that the large space requirements for cheetah, coupled with the complex range of threats faced by the species in the wild, mean that it is likely to be much more vulnerable to extinction than was previously thought.”

Authors call for the cheetahs to be up-listed from ‘Vulnerable’ to ‘Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. They argue that more conservation measures are needed if we want to save the species.

“We have worked with range state governments and the cheetah conservation community to put in place comprehensive frameworks for action to save the species, but funds and resources are needed to implement them. The recent decisions made at the CITES CoP17 meeting in Johannesburg represent a significant breakthrough particularly in terms of stemming the illegal flow of live cats trafficked out of the Horn of Africa region. However, concerted action is needed to reverse ongoing declines in the face of accelerating land use changes across the continent.”

The felines face a range of problems, all stemming from interactions with society. Aside from kicking them out of their historic range, humans also overhunt their prey, leaving the cheetahs unable to feed themselves. Because the species has such a wide range, it is highly vulnerable to human impacts and to make things even worse, cheetahs have also become popular as “pets.” Even in protected areas and natural parks, they aren’t safe. In Zimbabwe, cheetah numbers dropped from 1,200 to a maximum of 170 animals in just 16 years, an unprecedented drop in numbers.

The study came as quite a surprise and shows that the situation is much dire than most anticipated. We need to reanalyze thing and come up with concrete solutions – otherwise, next generations will see cheetahs only in history books. Speaking about this, Panthera’s Cheetah Program Director, Dr. Kim Young-Overton, said:

“We’ve just hit the reset button in our understanding of how close cheetahs are to extinction. The take-away from this pinnacle study is that securing protected areas alone is not enough. We must think bigger, conserving across the mosaic of protected and unprotected landscapes that these far-ranging cats inhabit, if we are to avert the otherwise certain loss of the cheetah forever.”

Journal Reference: Sarah M. Durant et al. The global decline of cheetah Acinonyx jubatus and what it means for conservation. PNAS, December 27, 2016 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1611122114

We are killing species at 1000 times the natural rate

Extinction and emergence of species are natural phenomena – but the rate at which extinction is happening now is anything but natural. A new study has shown that humans are causing species to become extinct 1000 times faster than they naturally would.

Killing the world, one species at a time

The new estimate of the global rate of extinction comes from Stuart Pimm of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Back in 1995, he published a study concluding that human activities are driving animals to extinction 100 to 1000 times faster than the background rate in the past 10 to 20 million years. His study was initially met with skepticism, but now, further research has shown that if anything, he was underestimating the human impact.

The Red List assessment of endangered species was the base of this study.

“Twenty years ago we simply didn’t have the breadth of underlying data with 70,000 species assessments in hand,” says team member Thomas Brooks of the IUCN in Gland, Switzerland.

By studying animals’ DNA, they were also able to create family trees for many groups of animals, calculating the emergence rate of new species. It’s difficult to calculate the absolute rate of extinction, but scientists can use a workaround: in the past 20 million years, the rate of new species emerging has always been greater than the rate at which species become extinct. That’s always a good reference point – and that reference point shows that we are killing species 1000 times faster than it would happen naturally.

Destorying ecosystems

The big unknown now is when will these massive extinctions cause entire ecosystems to collapse. We still don’t fully understand the complex interactions that take place inside ecosystems, but it’s fairly clear that most ecosystems won’t be able to sustain this systematic destruction – even though it’s impossible to predict exactly when that will happen.

“People who say that are pulling numbers out of the air,” says Pimm.

Pimm’s team also compiled detailed biodiversity maps which help conservationists decide what to do. The good news is that you can also help with these maps! Through projects like iNaturalist, you too can take pictures of wild life using your Android or iPhone device; scientists will identify and catalogue them, further developing these biodiversity maps.

“Right now, someone is posting an observation about every 30 seconds,” says co-director Scott Loarie of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.