Global extinction crisis is “as bad or worse than believed”

The world's largest conservation-related organisation says that there have been dramatic declines in populations of many species, including reptiles and primates since 1996.

The World Conservation Union (IUCN), released its report 2000 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, which it says is the most authoritative global assessment of species loss on 29 Sepember, and which is full of “alarming facts.”

The organisation, which brings together government agencies, scientists and NGOs from 181 countries, says that since its last assessment in 1996, critically endangered primates increased from 13 to 19, and the number of threatened albatross species has increased from three to 16 due to long-line fisheries. Freshwater turtles, heavily exploited for food and medicinal use in Asia, went from 10 to 24 critically endangered species in just four years.

A total of 11,046 species of plants and animals are listed as threatened, facing a high risk of extinction in the near future, in almost all cases as a result of human activities. This includes 24% of mammal species and 12% of bird species. The total number of threatened animal species has increased from 5,205 to 5,435.

IUCN says that habitat loss and degradation affect 89% of all threatened birds, 83% of mammals, and 91% of threatened plants assessed. Habitats with the highest number of threatened mammals and birds are lowland and mountain tropical rainforest. Freshwater habitats are also extremely vulnerable with many threatened fish, reptile, amphibian and invertebrate species.

Indonesia, India, Brazil and China are listed as 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, the report says.

The report notes that while the overall percentage of threatened mammals and birds has not greatly changed in four years, the magnitude of risk, shown by movements to the higher risk categories, has increased. Whilst the 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals included 169 critically endangered and 315 endangered mammals, the 2000 analysis 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.

The 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 Red List is solid documentation of the global extinction crisis, and it reveals just the tip of the iceberg,” said Russell A. Mittermeier, President of Conservation International. “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.”

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

The release of the report came one 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 World Conservation Union

2000 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

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