Species Face Extinction
By Sonny Inbaraj
18 November, 2004
Inter Press Service
Over 15,000 animal and plant species face extinction, reveals the World
Conservation Union or IUCN in its '2004
Red List of Threatened Species'.
One in three amphibians
and almost half of all freshwater turtles are threatened, on top of
the one in eight birds and one in four mammals known to be jeopardy,
said the IUCN at its 3rd World Conservation Congress being held in the
Thai capital from Nov. 17-25.
The global conference
brings together 81 states, 114 government agencies, 800 plus non-governmental
organisations (NGOs) and some 10,000 scientists and experts from 181
countries and has been billed as the one of biggest environmental meetings
''This sends a very
powerful message that conservation is not a marginal issue in the year
2004,'' said Achim Steiner, director-general of the Geneva-based IUCN.
''There has been a record level of interest.''
IUCN's 'Red List'
is the most comprehensive scientific assessment of species at risk of
dying out, and includes concrete measures to slow or reverse their extinction.
The 15,589 species
threatened with extinction, although cover just over one percent of
the world's described species, includes 12 percent of all bird species,
23 percent of all mammal species, 32 percent of all amphibian species
and 34 percent of all gymnosperms (mainly conifers and cycads).
''This is a wake
up call for the world,'' said Steiner.
have a reputation for presenting doom and gloom scenarios but it is
pointless to try and deny what you will find in this 'Red List','' he
added. ''The evidence presented should make people worry about the future
viability of the various ecosystems that we depend on.''
There are nine categories
in the 'Red List' system: extinct, extinct in the wild, critically endangered,
endangered, vulnerable, near threatened, least concern, data deficient
and not evaluated. In addition to the 'Red List', the IUCN has also
published its Global Species Assessment, which it does every four years.
According to the
2004 assessment, countries with the most threatened and threatened endemic
species lie mainly in the continental tropics, while those with the
highest proportion of threatened endemics are mainly tropical island
China, Indonesia and Mexico have particularly large numbers of threatened
species,'' the report pointed out.
It also revealed
that Colombia, India, Malaysia, Burma, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea,
the Philippines, South Africa and the United States have high number
of threatened endemics for at least one taxonomic group.
People, either directly
or indirectly, are the main reason for most species' declines. Habitat
destruction and degradation are the leading threats but other significant
pressures include over-exploitation for food, pets, and medicine, introduced
species, pollution and disease. Climate change, also, is increasingly
recognised as a serious threat.
Among the key findings
of the 2004 Global Species Assessment is that future conflicts between
the needs of threatened species and rapidly increasing human populations
are predicted to occur in Cameroon, Colombia, Ecuador, India, Madagascar,
Malaysia, Peru, Philippines, Tanzania and Peru.
The report also
named Brazil, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Ecuador, India, Indonesia,
Madagascar, Peru and the Philippines as countries with a large number
of threatened species and unable to financially invest in conservation.
''The world's conservation
community has been ignored for far too long by those who are making
fundamental economic and political decisions,'' said IUCN's Steiner.
''We are reaching the limits of exploitation and we need to reverse
But while most threats
to biodiversity are human-driven, human actions alone can prevent many
species from becoming extinct, said David Brackett, chair of IUCN's
Species Survival Commission.
''There are many
examples of species being brought back from the brink, including the
southern white rhinoceros,'' Brackett pointed out.
The southern white
rhinoceros that had been fairly widespread throughout Namibia, Bostwana,
Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa early in the 19th century, had
by the turn of the 20th century been reduced to two relict populations
on the Zimbabwe- Mozambique border and the Umfolozi Game Reserve in
KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
decision had been made on their protection and numbers soon increased
over the years from 700 animals in 1960 to over 11,5000 free-ranging
southern white rhinos in 2002.
The southern white
rhinoceros is now listed as near threatened on the IUCN 'Red List'.
But the IUCN's 'Red
List' also demonstrates how little is known about the world's biodiversity.
is an underestimate as many species have not been assessed. In fact
only three percent of the world's species have been assessed in this
'Red List','' said Brackett. ''Other habitats are also under threat
but we do not know quite enough of them yet.''
''However, the fact
that we have many gaps in our knowledge should not be an excuse for
inaction,'' added Brackett. ''The 15,589 threatened species on the 'Red
List' require urgent conservation attention if they are not to slip
further towards extinction.''
© 2004 IPS