Extinction crisis escalates: Red List shows apes, corals, vultures, dolphins all
in danger 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesT, the world’s most
authoritative assessment of the Earth’s plants and animals, acts as a wake up
call on the global extinction crisis.
on Earth is disappearing fast and will continue to do so unless urgent action is
taken, according to the 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
There are now 41,415 species on the IUCN Red List and 16,306 of them are
threatened with extinction, up from 16,118 last year. The total number of
extinct species has reached 785 and a further 65 are only found in captivity or
One in four mammals, one in eight birds, one third of all amphibians and 70% of
the world’s assessed plants on the 2007 IUCN Red List are in jeopardy.
Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director General of the World Conservation
said: "This year’s IUCN Red List shows that the invaluable efforts made so far
to protect species are not enough. The rate of biodiversity loss is increasing
and we need to act now to significantly reduce it and stave off this global
extinction crisis. This can be done, but only with a concerted effort by all
levels of society."
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is widely recognized as the most
reliable evaluation of the world’s species. It classifies them according to
their extinction risk and brings into sharp focus the ongoing decline of the
world’s biodiversity and the impact that mankind is having upon life on Earth.
Jane Smart, Head of IUCN’s Species Programme, said: "We need to know the precise
status of species in order to take the appropriate action. The IUCN Red List
does this by measuring the overall status of biodiversity, the rate at which it
is being lost and the causes of decline.
"Our lives are inextricably linked with biodiversity and ultimately its
protection is essential for our very survival. As the world begins to respond to
the current crisis of biodiversity loss, the information from the IUCN Red List
is needed to design and implement effective conservation strategies – for the
benefit of people and nature."
Some highlights from this year’s IUCN Red List
The decline of the great apes
A reassessment of our closest relatives, the great apes, has revealed a grim
picture. The Western Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) has moved from Endangered to
Critically Endangered, after the discovery that the main subspecies, the Western
Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), has been decimated by the commercial
bushmeat trade and the Ebola virus. Their population has declined by more than
60% over the last 20-25 years, with about one third of the total population
found in protected areas killed by the Ebola virus over the last 15 years.
The Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii) remains in the Critically Endangered
category and the Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) in the Endangered category.
Both are threatened by habitat loss due to illegal and legal logging and forest
clearance for palm oil plantations. In
increased from 2,000 km2 to 27,000 km2 between 1984 and 2003, leaving just
86,000 km2 of habitat available to the species throughout the island.
First appearance of corals on the IUCN Red List
Corals have been assessed and added to the IUCN Red List for the very first
time. Ten Galápagos species have entered the list, with two in the Critically
Endangered category and one in the Vulnerable category.
Coral (Rhizopsammia wellingtoni) has been listed as Critically Endangered
(Possibly Extinct). The main threats to these species are the effects of El Niño
and climate change.
In addition, 74 seaweeds have been added to the IUCN Red List from the Galápagos
Islands. Ten species are listed as Critically Endangered, with six of those
highlighted as Possibly Extinct. The cold water species are threatened by
climate change and the rise in sea temperature that characterizes El Niño. The
seaweeds are also indirectly affected by overfishing, which removes predators
from the food chain, resulting in an increase of sea urchins and other
herbivores that overgraze these algae.
Yangtze River Dolphin listed as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct)
After an intensive, but fruitless, search for the Yangtze River Dolphin, or
Baiji, (Lipotes vexillifer) last November and December, it has been listed as
Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct). The dolphin has not been placed in a
higher category as further surveys are needed before it can be definitively
classified as Extinct. A possible sighting reported in late August 2007 is
currently being investigated by Chinese scientists. The main threats to the
species include fishing, river traffic, pollution and degradation of habitat.
threats from habitat degradation and has moved from Endangered to Critically
Endangered. Its population has recently declined by 58%, from 436 breeding
adults in 1997 to just 182 in 2006. Dams, irrigation projects, sand mining and
artificial embankments have all encroached on its habitat, reducing its domain
to 2% of its former range.
This year the total number of birds on the IUCN Red List is 9,956 with 1,217
listed as threatened. Vultures in Africa and
species reclassified on the IUCN Red List. In
(Sarcogyps calvus) moved from Near Threatened to Critically Endangered while the
Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) moved from Least Concern to Endangered.
The rapid decline in the birds over the last eight years has been driven by the
drug diclofenac, used to treat livestock.
White-headed Vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis), which moved from Least Concern
to Vulnerable, the White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus) and Rüppell’s Griffon
(Gyps rueppellii), both moved from Least Concern to Near Threatened. The birds’
decline has been due to a lack of food, with a reduction in wild grazing
mammals, habitat loss and collision with power lines. They have also been
poisoned by carcasses deliberately laced with insecticide. The bait is intended
to kill livestock predators, such as hyenas, jackals and big cats, but it also
North American reptiles added to IUCN Red List
After a major assessment of Mexican and North American reptiles, 723 were added
to the IUCN Red List, taking the total to 738 reptiles listed for this region.
Of these, 90 are threatened with extinction. Two Mexican freshwater turtles, the
Cuatro Cienegas Slider (Trachemys taylori) and the Ornate Slider (Trachemys
ornata), are listed as Endangered and Vulnerable respectively. Both face threats
from habitat loss.
catalinensis) has also been added to the list as Critically Endangered, after
being persecuted by illegal collectors.
Plants in peril
There are now 12,043 plants on the IUCN Red List, with 8,447 listed as
threatened. The Woolly-stalked Begonia (Begonia eiromischa) is the only species
to have been declared extinct this year. This Malaysian herb is only known from
collections made in 1886 and 1898 on
forests have failed to reveal any specimens in the last 100 years.
The Wild Apricot (Armeniaca vulgaris), from central
added to the IUCN Red List for the first time, classified as Endangered. The
species is a direct ancestor of plants that are widely cultivated in many
countries around the world, but its population is dwindling as it loses habitat
to tourist developments and is exploited for wood, food and genetic material.
Banggai Cardinalfish heavily exploited by aquarium trade
Overfishing continues to put pressure on many fish species, as does demand from
the aquarium trade. The Banggai Cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni), which is
highly prized in the aquarium industry, is entering the IUCN Red List for the
first time in the Endangered category. The fish, which is only found in the
Banggai Archipelago, near
approximately 900,000 extracted every year. Conservationists are calling for the
fish to be reared in captivity for the aquarium trade, so the wild populations
can be left to recover.
These highlights from the 2007 IUCN Red List are merely a few examples of the
rapid rate of biodiversity loss around the world. The disappearance of species
has a direct impact on people’s lives. Declining numbers of freshwater fish, for
example, deprive rural poor communities not only of their major source of food,
but of their livelihoods as well.
Species loss is our loss
Conservation action is slowing down biodiversity loss in some cases, but there
are still many species that need more attention from conservationists. This
year, only one species has moved to a lower category of threat. The
Echo Parakeet (Psittacula eques), which was one of the world’s rarest parrots 15
years ago, has moved from Critically Endangered to Endangered. The improvement
is a result of successful conservation action, including close monitoring of
nesting sites and supplementary feeding combined with a captive breeding and