Global extinction crisis escalates
More than 15,000 species of plants and animals are facing global extinction.
This startling picture of biodiversity loss has emerged from the latest Global Species Assessment – based on and released in conjunction with the 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Delegates will be debating these findings at the world's largest conservation gathering, the 3rd IUCN World Conservation Congress, which kicks off in Bangkok today.
The Global Species Assessment (GSA) is the most comprehensive evaluation ever undertaken of the status of the world’s biodiversity. It shows trends in biodiversity since the last major analysis in 2000 and also highlights which species are at greatest risk of extinction, where they occur, and the many threats facing them. The GSA is produced by the Red List Consortium, an alliance of six conservation organsiations including BirdLife International.
"Birds remain the best documented class of organisms on the Red List. Their continued decline is indicative of the perilous state of the planet's biodiversity." —Dr Stuart Butchart, Global Species Officer, BirdLife International
In 1996 it was revealed that one in eight birds (12%) and one in four mammals (23%) were threatened with extinction (falling into the Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable categories).
The new figures show that one in three amphibians (32%) and more than two fifths (42%) of turtles and tortoises are globally threatened. The catastrophic decline of amphibians is a worrying indicator of the state of the planet’s freshwater resources. The vast saltwater ocean depths are also under pressure – providing little refuge to many over-exploited marine species. Nearly one in five (18%) of assessed sharks and rays are threatened with extinction.
Many plants have also been assessed, but only conifers (25%) and cycads (52%) have been completely evaluated.
Since the release of the previous Red List in 2003, there have been some notable changes including some marked deteriorations, like the St Helena Olive (from Extinct in the Wild to Extinct), the Hawaiian Crow (from Critically Endangered to Extinct in the Wild), the Balearic Shearwater (From Near Threatened to Critically Endangered), and the Giant Hispaniolan Galliwasp Lizard (from Near Threatened to Critically Endangered).
"The Hawaiian Crow is now classified as Extinct in the Wild following the disappearance of the last known two birds remaining at large on Big Island in 2002. The crow is just one of a suite of bird species that have seen their conservation status worsen since the last major update of the IUCN Red List," said Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife International's Global Species Officer.
"Targeted conservation action can make a real difference to the fate of species. For instance the control of invasive, non-native ants by the Australian Government has saved Christmas Island's unique bird life from extinction." —Dr Stuart Butchart
However, there have also been some improvements, such as the European Otter (from Vulnerable to Near Threatened) and the Christmas Island Imperial Pigeon (from Critically Endangered to Vulnerable).
Humans, either directly or indirectly, are the main reason for most declines. Habitat destruction and degradation are the leading threats but other significant pressures include introduced species, pollution, disease and over-exploitation for food, the pet trade, and medicine. Climate change is also increasingly being recognised as a serious threat.
Threatened species are often concentrated in densely populated areas, particularly in much of Asia and parts of Africa. A major conservation challenge will therefore be to reconcile the demands of large numbers of people on the environment, whilst protecting the biodiversity upon which so many people’s livelihoods depend.
"It is clear that the situation facing our species is serious and getting worse. We can continue to assess and bemoan the loss of the world’s biodiversity or we can act. We must refocus and rethink the way in which society must respond to this global threat," says Achim Steiner, IUCN’s Director General. "Thousands of dedicated people around the world are doing their utmost to reverse the extinction rate. But this cannot continue to be the task of the environmental community alone. Governments and business must commit to these efforts as well."