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Published on Wednesday, November 17, 2004 by Inter Press Service
World on Alert as Over 15,000 Species Face Extinction
by Sonny Inbaraj

BANGKOK - 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 in history.

''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.

''Environmentalists 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 nations.

''Australia, Brazil, 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

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 that.''

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

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.

A conscientious 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.

''Undoubtedly this 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

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