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 user 2007-09-12 at 10:41:00 am Views: 56
  • #18735

    orangutans, and corals are among the plants and animals which are
    sliding closer to extinction.The Red List of Threatened Species for
    2007 names habitat loss, hunting and climate change among the
    causes.The World Conservation Union (IUCN) has identified more than
    16,000 species threatened with extinction, while prospects have
    brightened for only one.The IUCN says there is a lack of political will
    to tackle the global erosion of nature.

    Governments have pledged to stem the loss of species by 2010; but it does not appear to be happening.
    year’s Red List shows that the invaluable efforts made so far to
    protect species are not enough,” said the organisation’s
    director-general, Julia Marton-Lefevre.”The rate of biodiversity loss
    is increasing, and we need to act now to significantly reduce it and
    stave off this global extinction crisis.”One in three amphibians, one
    in four mammals, one in eight birds and 70% of plants so far assessed
    are believed to be at risk of extinction, with human alteration of
    their habitat the single biggest cause.

    Critical list
    tone of this year’s Red List is depressingly familiar. Of 41,415
    species assessed, 16,306 are threatened with extinction to a greater or
    lesser degree.
    Extinct – Surveys suggest last known individual has died
    Endangered – Extreme high risk of extinction – this some Critically
    Endangered species are also tagged Possibly Extinct

    Endangered – Species at very high risk of extinction
    Vulnerable – Species at high risk of extinction
    Near Threatened – May soon move into above categories
    Least Concern – Species is widespread and abundant
    Data Deficient – not enough data to assess
    main changes from previous assessments include some of the natural
    world’s iconic animals, such as the western lowland gorilla, which
    moves from the Endangered to the Critically Endangered category.

    Numbers have declined by more than 60% over the last 20-25 years.
    clearance has allowed hunters access to previously inaccessible areas;
    and the Ebola virus has followed, wiping out one-third of the total
    gorilla population in protected areas, and up to 95% in some
    regions.Ebola has moved through the western lowland gorilla’s
    rangelands in western central Africa from the southwest to the
    northeast. If it continues its march, it will reach all the remaining
    populations within a decade.The Sumatran orangutan was already
    Critically Endangered before this assessment, with numbers having
    fallen by 80% in the last 75 years.But IUCN has identified new threats
    to the 7,300 individuals that remain. Forests are being cleared for
    palm oil plantations, and habitat is being split up by the building of
    new roads.In Borneo, home to the second orangutan species, palm oil
    plantations have expanded 10-fold in a decade, and now take up 27,000
    sq km of the island. Illegal logging reduces habitat still further,
    while another threat comes from hunting for food and the illegal
    international pet trade.So fragmented have some parts of the Bornean
    forest become that some isolated orangutan populations now number less
    than 50 individuals, which IUCN notes are “apparently not viable in the
    long term”.

    Straight to zero
    great apes are perhaps the most charismatic creatures on this year’s
    Red List, but the fact they are in trouble has been known for some
    years. Perhaps more surprising are some of the new additions.”This is
    the first time we’ve assessed corals, and it’s a bit worrying because
    some of them moved straight from being not assessed to being possibly
    extinct,” said Jean-Christophe Vie, deputy head of IUCN’s species
    programme.”We know that some species were there in years gone by, but
    now when we do the assessment they are not there. And corals are like
    the trees in the forest; they build the ecosystem for fish and other
    animals.”IUCN is now embarking on a complete assessment of coral
    species, and expects to find that about 30% to 40% are threatened.The
    most glaring example of a waterborne creature failed by conservation
    efforts is probably the baiji, the Yangtze river dolphin, which is
    categorised as Critically Endangered, Possibly Extinct.This freshwater
    species appears to have failed in its bid for survival against the
    destructive tides of fishing, shipping, pollution, and habitat change
    in its one native river. Chinese media reported a possible sighting
    earlier this year, but the IUCN is not convinced; with no confirmed
    evidence of a living baiji since 2002, they believe its time on Earth
    may well be over.If so, it will have become a largely accidental victim
    of the various forces of human development. Not so the spectacular
    Banggai cardinalfish; a single decade of hunting for the aquarium trade
    has brought numbers down by an astonishing 90%.Many African vultures
    are new entrants on this year’s list. But birds provide the only
    notable success, with the colourful Mauritius echo parakeet making it
    back from Critically Endangered to Endangered.

    Intensive conservation work has brought numbers up from about 50 to above 300.
    the gharial, a crocodilian found in the major rivers of India and
    Nepal, provides a cautionary tale of what can happen when conservation
    money and effort dry up.
    A decade ago, a programme of
    re-introduction to the wild brought the adult population up from about
    180 to nearer 430. Deemed a success, the programme was stopped; numbers
    are again hovering around 180, and the gharial finds itself once more
    on the Critically Endangered list.

    Climate of distraction
    says that it is not too late for many of these species; that they can
    be brought back from the brink.It is something that the world’s
    governments have committed to, vowing in the 1992 Convention on
    Biological Diversity “to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the
    current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national
    level”.”Governments know they are going to fail to reach that target,”
    said Jean-Christophe Vie, “and not just in terms of a few species – the
    failure is really massive.”We know that it is possible to reverse the
    trend, but the causes are so huge and massive and global, and there is
    still a lack of attention to the crisis that biodiversity faces.”Many
    in the environmental movement argue that too much money and attention
    has gone on climate change, with other issues such as biodiversity,
    clean water and desertification ignored at the political level.IUCN’s
    assessment is that climate change is important for many Red List
    species; but it is not the only threat, and not the most important
    threat.There are conflicts between addressing the various issues, with
    biofuels perhaps being the obvious example. Useful they may turn out to
    be in reducing greenhouse gas emissions; but many conservationists are
    seriously concerned that the vast swathes of monoculture they will
    bring spell dire consequences for creatures such as the orangutan.