Red List of Threatened Species Reveals Global Extinction Crisis

GENEVA, Switzerland, September 28, 2000 (ENS) - Earth's most critically endangered animals and plants have disappeared very rapidly since 1996, the world's largest international conservation organisation reported today.

One in four mammal species and one in eight species of birds are facing a high risk of extinction in the near future, in almost all cases as a result of human activities. The total number of threatened animal species has increased from 5,205 to 5,435.

The 2000 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is released once every four years by IUCN - The World Conservation Union. The Red List is considered the most authoritative and comprehensive status assessment of global biodiversity.

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Female Ethiopian Wolf greeting her cubs. The world's most threatened canid, the Ethiopian Wolf (Canis simensis), lives only in the highlands of Ethiopia. There are fewer than 400 adult individuals surviving. (Photo by Dada Gottelii courtesy IUCN)
Founded in 1948, the IUCN brings together 77 states, 112 government agencies, 735 non-governmental organizations, 35 affiliates, and some 10,000 scientists and experts from 181 countries in a worldwide partnership.

Drawing on all these sources of information, the Red List report uses scientific criteria to classify species into one of eight categories: Extinct, Extinct in the Wild, Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, Lower Risk, Data Deficient and Not Evaluated.

A species is classed as threatened if it falls in the Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable categories.

"The fact that the number of critically endangered species has increased - mammals from 169 to 180; birds from 168 to 182 - was a jolting surprise, even to those already familiar with today's increasing threats to biodiversity. These findings should be taken very seriously by the global community," says Maritta von Bieberstein Koch-Weser, IUCN's director general.

The magnitude of risk, shown by movements to the higher risk categories, has increased, although the overall percentage of threatened mammals and birds has not greatly changed in four years, the IUCN found.

PRIMATES' STATUS PRECARIOUS

Primates such as apes and monkeys showed the greatest increase in the number of threatened mammals, from 96 to 116 species. Many changes were found to be caused by increased habitat loss and hunting, particularly the bushmeat trade.

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Red-shanked Douc Langur (Pygathrix nemaeus) is an Endangered Asian colobine monkey found in south central Viet Nam and parts of neighboring Laos. It is threatened by habitat destruction and hunting for food and for body parts, used to prepare traditional medicines. (Photo by Bill Konstant courtesy IUCN)
The number of Critically Endangered primates increased from 13 to 19. Endangered primates number 46 today, up from 29 four years ago.

Russell Mittermeier, president of Conservation International and chair of IUCN's Primate Specialist Group says, "The Red List is solid documentation of the global extinction crisis, and it reveals just the tip of the iceberg." "Many wonderful creatures will be lost in the first few decades of the 21st century unless we greatly increase levels of support, involvement and commitment to conservation, he warns.

"Human and financial resources must be mobilised at between 10 and 100 times the current level to address this crisis, the Red List analysis urges.

Indonesia, India, Brazil and China are among the countries with the most threatened mammals and birds, while plant species are declining rapidly in South and Central America, Central and West Africa, and Southeast Asia.

Habitat loss and habitat degradation affect 89 percent of all threatened birds, 83 percent of mammals, and 91 percent of threatened plants assessed.

Habitats with the highest number of threatened mammals and birds are lowland and mountain tropical rainforest.

As in 1996, Indonesia has the highest number of threatened mammals, 135 species. India with 80 threatened mammal species and Brazil with 75 threatened species have moved ahead of China where 72 species are threatened.

FRAGILE FRESH WATER SPECIES

Freshwater habitats are "extremely vulnerable" with many threatened fish, reptile, amphibian and invertebrate species. Freshwater turtles, heavily exploited for food and medicinal use in Asia, went from 10 to 24 Critically Endangered species in the past four years.

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Asian Three-striped Box Turtle (Cuora trifasciata) is one of the most Critically Endangered freshwater turtles in Asia. (Photo by Krut Buhlman courtesy IUCN)
"Hunting of these species is unregulated and unmanaged, and the harvest levels are far too high for the species to sustain," the IUCN warns. As populations disappear in Southeast Asia, there are signs that this trade is increasingly shifting to India and further afield to the Americas and Africa.

Other Asian species, such as snakes and salamanders, are also heavily exploited for use in traditional Chinese medicine, but the effects of this and other pressures on most of these species have not yet been assessed.

A number of amphibian species have shown rapid and unexplained disappearances, for example in Australia, Costa Rica, Panama and Puerto Rico, the IUCN reports.

The report points to "extremely serious deterioration" in the status of river dwelling species largely due to water development projects and other habitat changes. One of the major threats to lake dwelling species is introduced species. A systematic analysis of the status of these species will be undertaken in the next three years.

BIRDS AT RISK

BirdLife International produced the global status analysis that forms a major component of the Red List. The most significant changes have been in the albatrosses and petrels, with an increase from 32 to 55 threatened species.

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Wandering Albatross (Diomedea exulans) is one of 16 albatross species identified as globally threatened in the 2000 Red List. (Photo by Tony Palliser courtesy IUCN)
Sixteen albatross species are now threatened compared to only three in 1996, as a result of longline fishing. Of the remaining five albatross species, four are now near-threatened. Threatened penguin species have doubled from five to 10. These increases reflect the growing threats to the marine environment," the IUCN reports.

BirdLife International has started an international campaign "Save the albatross: keeping the world's seabirds off the hook" to reduce the accidental bycatch of seabirds through longline fisheries adopting appropriate mitigation measures.

The Philippines, another biodiversity hotspot, has lost 97 percent of its original vegetation and has more Critically Endangered birds than any other country.

IMPERILLED PLANTS

The IUCN Red List includes 5,611 species of threatened plants, many of which are trees.

The total number of globally threatened plant species is still small in relation to the total number of plant species, but this is because most plant species have still not been assessed for their level of threat, IUCN says.

The only major plant group to have been comprehensively assessed is the conifers, of which 140 species, 16 percent of the total, are threatened.

Assessments undertaken by The Nature Conservancy, not yet incorporated in the Red List, indicate that one-third of the plant species in North America are threatened.

THE NUMBERS

In the last 500 years, human activity has forced 816 species to extinction or extinction in the wild.

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Bastard Quiver tree (Aloe pillansii) is a Critically Endangered tree aloe living in the Richtersveld area of the Northern Cape, South Africa and southern Namibia. Fewer than 200 mature individuals survive. The species is the focus of a new survey and possible reintroduction program by members of the IUCN/SSC Southern African Plant Specialist Group. (Photo by Craig Hilton-Taylor courtesy IUCN)
One hundred and three extinctions have occurred since 1800, indicating an extinction rate 50 times greater than the natural rate. Many species are lost before they are discovered.

The 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals included 169 Critically Endangered and 315 Endangered mammals. The 2000 analysis now lists 180 Critically Endangered and 340 Endangered mammals.

For birds, there is an increase from 168 to 182 Critically Endangered and from 235 to 321 Endangered species.

A total of 18,276 species and subspecies are included in the 2000 Red List. Approximately 25 percent of reptiles, 20 percent of amphibians and 30 percent of fishes, mainly freshwater, so far assessed are listed as threatened.

Since only a small proportion of these groups has been assessed, the percentage of threatened species could be much higher, the IUCN says.

As well as classifying species according to their extinction risk, the Red List provides information on species range, population trends, main habitats, major threats and conservation measures, both already in place, and those needed. It allows insight into the processes driving extinction.

The release of the 2000 Red List comes a week before the second World Conservation Congress in Amman, Jordan, where members of IUCN will meet to define global conservation policy for the next four years, including ways of addressing the growing extinction crisis.

The 2000 IUCN Red List has been produced for the first time on CD-ROM and is searchable on its own website at http://www.redlist.org. The analysis is published as a booklet.