Monday, October 6, 2008
The IUCN released its most recent Red List of Threatened Species today at the IUCN World Conservation
Congress in Barcelona. IUCN Red List link The list shows at least 1,141 of the 5,487 mammals
on Earth are known to be threatened with extinction. At least 76
mammals have become extinct since 1500. But the results also show
conservation can bring species back from the brink of extinction, with
five percent of currently threatened mammals showing signs of recovery
in the wild.
“Within our lifetime hundreds of species could be lost as a result
of our own actions, a frightening sign of what is happening to the
ecosystems where they live,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN Director General. “We
must now set clear targets for the future to reverse this trend to
ensure that our enduring legacy is not to wipe out many of our closest
The real situation could be much worse as 836 mammals are listed as Data Deficient. With better information more species may well prove to be in danger of extinction. “The reality is that the number of threatened mammals could be as high as 36 percent,” says Jan Schipper, of Conservation International and lead author in a forthcoming article in Science. “This indicates that conservation action backed by research is a clear priority for the future, not only to improve the data so that we can evaluate threats to these poorly known species, but to investigate means to recover threatened species and populations.”
The results show 188 mammals are in the highest threat category of Critically Endangered, including the Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus), which has a population of just 84-143 adults and has continued to decline due to a shortage of its primary prey, the European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). China’s Père David’s Deer (Elaphurus davidianus), is listed as Extinct in the Wild. However, the captive and semi-captive populations have increased in recent years and it is possible that truly wild populations could be re-established soon. It may be too late, however, to save the additional 29 species that have been flagged as Critically Endangered Possibly Extinct, including Cuba’s Little Earth Hutia (Mesocapromys sanfelipensis), which has not been seen in nearly 40 years.
Nearly 450 mammals have been listed as Endangered, including the Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), which moved from Least Concern to Endangered after the global population declined by more than 60 percent in the last 10 years due to a fatal infectious facial cancer.
The Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus), found in Southeast Asia, moved from Vulnerable to Endangered due to habitat loss in wetlands. Similarly, the Caspian Seal (Pusa caspica) moved from Vulnerable to Endangered. Its population has declined by 90 percent in the last 100 years due to unsustainable hunting and habitat degradation and is still decreasing.
Habitat loss and degradation affect 40 percent of the world’s mammals. It is most extreme in Central and South America, West, East and Central Africa, Madagascar, and in South and Southeast Asia. Over harvesting is wiping out larger mammals, especially in Southeast Asia, but also in parts of Africa and South America.
The Grey-faced Sengi or Elephant-shrew (Rhynchocyon udzungwensis) is only known from two forests in the Udzungwa Mountains of Tanzania, both of which are fully protected but vulnerable to fires. The species was first described this year and has been placed in the Vulnerable category.
But it is not all bad news. The assessment of the world’s mammals shows that species can recover with concerted conservation efforts. The Black-footed Ferret (Mustela nigripes) moved from Extinct in the Wild to Endangered after a successful reintroduction by the US Fish and Wildlife Service into eight western states and Mexico from 1991-2008. Similarly, the Wild Horse (Equus ferus) moved from Extinct in the Wild in 1996 to Critically Endangered this year after successful reintroductions started in Mongolia in the early 1990s.
The African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) moved from Vulnerable to Near Threatened, although its status varies considerably across its range. The move reflects the recent and ongoing population increases in major populations in southern and eastern Africa. These increases are big enough to outweigh any decreases that may be taking place elsewhere.
“The longer we wait, the more expensive it will be to prevent future extinctions,” says Dr Jane Smart, Head of IUCN’s Species Programme. “We now know what species are threatened, what the threats are and where – we have no more excuses to watch from the sidelines.”
The project to assess the world’s mammals was conducted with help from more than 1,800 scientists from over 130 countries. It was made possible by the volunteer help of IUCN Species Survival Commission’s specialist groups and the collaborations between top institutions and universities, including Conservation International, Sapienza Università di Roma, Arizona State University, Texas A&M University, University of Virginia, and the Zoological Society of London.
More Information from IUCN News Release and IUCN Review of the 2008 Red List continues below