GLAND, Switzerland, October 11, 2002 (ENS) – The Iberian lynx is close to becoming the first wild cat species to go extinct for 2,000 years, according to an updated Red List of Threatened Species published by IUCN-The World Conservation Union.
The status of the lynx, the Saiga antelope, and the wild Bactrian camel have changed from “endangered” to “critically endangered” since the release of the last edition of the Red List in September 2000. Two endemic Mexican cactus species have been declared extinct in the wild.
The organization lists species as belonging to one of three categories of extinction threat – critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable.
More than 400 new species assessments have been included on the updated Red List, one of the key reference points used to determine the status of the Earth’s biodiversity. Of the newly assessed species, 124 have been placed in one of the threatened categories.
There are now 11,167 species threatened with extinction, an increase of 121 since 2000.
Since 2000, two species previously assessed as extinct have been rediscovered – the Lord Howe Island stick insect, (Dryococelus australis) and the Bavarian pine vole (Microtus bavaricus).
IUCN Director General Achim Steiner says, “On the Red List, all species are treated with equal importance – the humble Bavarian pine vole stands alongside the African rhino. It provides the international benchmark to help guide effective biodiversity conservation, and IUCN calls on the international community to use it to advance efforts at all levels.”
The revised Red List shows critically endangered mammals have increased from 169 to 180, with the sharpest rise in mammal species seen among primates with those recorded as critically endangered increasing from 13 to 19.
One of the most endangered mammals, the Iberian lynx inhabits Mediterranean woodland and maquis thicket in Spain and Portugal. Habitat fragmentation by agricultural and industrial development has limited the lynx to scattered groups in the southwestern part of the Iberian peninsula.
The IUCN points to the introduction of myxomatosis, a type of pox virus to which rabbits are susceptible, to control the abundant rabbit population in Europe, as a factor in the lynx’s disappearance, as the rabbit is the lynx’s principal prey.
In an attempt to maintain the lynx population, conservationists are breeding and releasing rabbits, says the IUCN, while the wild rabbit population is developing a natural immunity to myxomatosis.
Lynx are injured by being caught in snares set for rabbits, and killed accidentally by speeding vehicles on the expanding road network, and by illegal shooting.
In addition, says carnivore conservation advocate Guillaume Chapron, a huge deforestation program is clearing the way for Europe’s largest dam in the Vale do Guadiana region of Portugal, the third most important nucleus for the country’s tiny Iberian lynx population – between 43 to 53 individuals.
“More than one million trees are now being felled to make way for the dam,” Chapron says. “The majority of these are old-growth holm and cork oaks, favored by female lynx for raising young.”
Previously assessed as conservation dependent, the Saiga antelope is now listed as critically endangered. Nomadic herds roam the open dry steppe grasslands and semi-arid deserts of Central Asia.
Poaching for meat and for export of horns used in traditional medicine has caused the population crash, the IUCN says. In 1993 the total population was estimated at over one million. By 2000 this had decreased to less than 200,000. Surveys for 2001-2002 indicate that less than 50,000 animals now remain in the wild.
Assessed as endangered in 1996, the wild Bactrian camel of China and Mongolia is now considered critically endangered. It is hunted for sport and as a competitor to domestic camels and livestock for water and grazing. Wild camel habitat is being lost through legal and illegal mining, and hybridization with domestic camels is also a threat to the wild species.
The Ethiopian water mouse (Nilopegamys plumbeus) enters the list as critically endangered. Only one mouse has ever been found, near the source of the Little Abbai, a tributary of the Blue Nile in northwestern Ethiopia. Its habitat may be overgrazed by livestock, the IUCN says.
Only recently redefined as separate species, the slender-billed vulture (Gyps tenuirostris) and Indian vulture (G. indicus) are classified as critically endangered on the updated Red List. Across the Indian subcontinent, they have suffered “extremely rapid population declines,” the IUCN says, due to disease, poisoning, pesticide use and changes in the processing of dead livestock.
One of the most commonly traded seahorses, prized for ornamental display, is now classified as vulnerable to extinction. The tiger tail seahorse (Hippocampus comes), is targeted by fishers for sale into the medicinal and aquarium markets. It is also accidentally caught as bycatch in other fisheries and suffers from habitat degradation.
In 2000, there were 5,611 plants assessed as threatened, the IUCN says. With the addition of Mexican and Brazilian cactus assessments, the figure is now 5,714, but there is much “catching up” to do in plant assessments.
Only about four percent of the world’s described plants have been evaluated, so “the true percentage of threatened plant species is much higher,” the IUCN warns.
Most of the plant species listed are trees, since these have been relatively thoroughly assessed.
As in 2000, 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 degradation affect 89 percent of all threatened birds, 83 percent of mammals, and 91 percent of threatened plants assessed,” the IUCN states.
Lowland and mountain tropical rainforest habitat has the highest number of threatened mammals and birds. Freshwater habitats are “extremely vulnerable” with many threatened fish, reptile, amphibian and invertebrate species.
The 2002 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is the first of what will be an annual update of the Red List database which is housed on its own, searchable website www.redlist.org.
The figures will change annually as new species assessments are included, currently listed species are re-assessed, and species undergo taxonomic revisions.
A major analysis of the Red List will be conducted approximately every four years with the next one due in 2004.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://bigcatrescue.org
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