Warning Of Extinction List:
'Life On Earth Is Disappearing'
By Michael McCarthy
13 September, 2007
vultures, corals, Asian crocodiles and even seaweeds are joining thousands
of other species on the slide towards extinction, according to the latest
edition of the Red List, the international catalogue of threatened wildlife,
In the past 12 months there
have been nearly 200 to the list, which is published by the Swiss-based
International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), taking the
number of threatened species worldwide from 16,118 to 16,306.
This means that one in four
of the world's mammals, one in eight birds, one third of all amphibians
and 70 per cent of the world's assessed plants on the current list are
in now in jeopardy. "Life on Earth is disappearing fast and will
continue to do so unless urgent action is taken," the IUCN said
The Red List is recognised
as the most reliable evaluation of the conservation status of the world's
species. It classifies them according to their extinction risk, through
the categories extinct, critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable.
Once an organism is classified as critically endangered, extinction
is very close.
A grim statistic contained
in the latest list is that 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 severely depleted by the commercial bushmeat trade,
and the Ebola virus.
Their population has declined
by more than 60 per cent over the past 20 to 25 years, with about one
third of the total population found in protected areas killed by the
Ebola virus over the past 15 years.
The change has been revealed
in a depressing reassessment of the status of the great apes, which
shows the orang-utan, in particular, to be in desperate trouble. The
Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) remains in the critically endangered
category and the Bornean orang-utan (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 Borneo, the
Red List says, the area planted with oil palms increased from 2,000
sq km to 27,000 sq km between 1984 and 2003, leaving just 86,000 sq
km of habitat available to the species throughout the island.
Another striking feature
of the new list is that corals have been assessed and added to the list
for the first time. Ten species from the Galapagos islands have entered
the list, with two in the critically endangered category and one in
the vulnerable category. Wellington's solitary coral (Rhizopsammia wellingtoni)
has been listed as critically endangered (possibly extinct).
The main threats to these
species are the effects of the El Niño warm water phenomenon
in the Pacific Ocean, and climate change. In addition, 74 seaweeds from
the Galapagos have been added to the list, 10 of them listed as critically
endangered, with six of those highlighted as possibly extinct. The coldwater
species are threatened by climate change and the rise in sea temperature
that characterises 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
The Gharial crocodile (Gavialis
gangeticus), found in India and Nepal, is also facing threats from habitat
degradation, and it too has moved from endangered to critically endangered.
Its population has declined by 58 per cent, 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 just 2 per cent of its former range.
Asia faces a further wildlife
crisis with enormous declines in its populations of vultures, which
are important as scavengers. The declines have been driven by the use
on cattle of the anti-inflammatory drug diclofenac, which is fatal to
the birds when they consume it in cattle carcasses. The red-headed vulture
(Sarcogyps calvus) has moved from near-threatened to critically endangered,
while the Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) has moved from least
concern to endangered.
One of the saddest accounts
of all concerns China's Yangtze river dolphin, or baiji, (Lipotes vexillifer),
which was thought to be the world's rarest mammal, but may now have
gone completely. After an intensive, but fruitless, search last November
and December, it has been listed as critically endangered (possibly
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 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.
Some good news...
There is one ray of hope
in this year's Red List – the improving position of one of the
world's rarest birds, the echo parakeet from Mauritius. Destruction
of its forest habitat through farming and the spread of introduced species
such as feral pigs, devastated its numbers, and by the end of the 1970s
there were only 10 or so known individuals. But a captive breeding programme,
run by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and the Government of Mauritius,
with the support of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the
World Parrot Trust, saw 139 captive birds returned to the wild between
1997 and 2005, and this has successfully re-established the population.
© 2007 Independent News
and Media Limited
Share Your Insights
it! And spread the word!
Here is a unique chance to help this article to be read by thousands
of people more. You just Digg it, and it will appear in the home page
of Digg.com and thousands more will read it. Digg is nothing but an
vote, the article with most votes will go to the top of the page. So,
as you read just give a digg and help thousands more to read this article.