BirdLife's 2007 World Round-up - Part 2: Preventing extinctions
The 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species showed that the overall conservation status of the world’s birds has deteriorated steadily since 1988, when they were first comprehensively assessed. BirdLife International carries out this assessment on behalf of IUCN and the 2007 update highlighted the deteriorating status of the world’s vultures: five more species have been ‘uplisted’ to higher categories of concern as a result of numerous threats. Egyptian Vulture Neophron percnopterus, for example, moved from Least Concern in 2004 to Endangered.
However, there was also evidence that conservation work can bring species back from the brink. After intensive work led by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation (MWF), Mauritius Parakeet Psittacula eques has been downlisted from Critically Endangered to Endangered. This is the third such downlisting to occur on Mauritius in recent years due to the efforts of MWF. In 2000, Pink Pigeon Nesoenas mayeri, reduced to just nine birds a decade earlier, was downlisted to Endangered and now numbers 400 birds. Likewise, Mauritius Kestrel Falco punctatus, with just four birds in 1974, now numbers approximately 1,000 individuals.
Spectacled Petrel has taken a similar step back from Critically Endangered to Endangered, after a ten-fold increase following the removal of pigs from its only breeding site on Inaccessible Island.
“Where efforts, resources and political will are directed, species can recover,” said Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife's Global Species Programme Coordinator. “Conservation works; we just need much more of it in order to turn back the tide of impending extinctions.”
With this in mind, BirdLife launched its Preventing Extinctions programme, aimed at turning the tide for all 189 Critically Endangered bird species. BirdLife is recruiting a new breed of conservationist called ‘Species Champions’ who will fund the work of identified ‘Species Guardians’ for each bird species. Preventing Extinctions was launched at the British Birdwatching Fair, and immediately signed up its first Species Champions, including BirdFair itself (Belding’s Yellowthroat, Djibouti Francolin, Restinga Antwren and Bengal Florican), In Focus optics (White-shouldered Ibis), the Leeds Castle Foundation (Blue-crowned Laughingthrush), Rare Bird Alert and NHBS Environment Bookstore.
But as if to underline the urgency of the Preventing Extinctions programme, news arrived that populations of one of the world’s strangest birds, Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus have crashed over the last decade, with perhaps as few 200 pairs left. And a study of Chinese Crested Tern found the global population has fallen to less than fifty individuals, half what they were just three years ago, probably due to collection of its eggs as a snack food.
One early conservation success seems to be going into reverse, with the announcement that of 13 breeding attempts by Critically Endangered California Condors Gymnogyps californianus in the wild in southern California between 2001 and 2005, only one resulted in successful fledging. “Ingested anthropogenic material” -swallowed junk -was directly responsible for the deaths of two condor nestlings, and is strongly implicated in the deaths of several more.
Two species newly described this year could find themselves immediately on the list of threatened birds. The flamboyantly coloured Gorgeted Puffleg Eriocnemis isabellae, is in immediate danger because the Serrania del Pinche mountains in Colombia where it was discovered are unprotected, and shrinking dramatically due to the spread of coca farming and ‘slash and burn’ agriculture. Sincorá Antwren Formicivora grantsaui could also be at risk because it depends on a distinct and limited type of habitat within a restricted range. Both have yet to have their conseration status formally assessed by BirdLife International.
The first Rare Birds Yearbook is now available, and undertakes to help put itself out of business by donating £4 to BirdLife’s Preventing Extinction work for every copy sold. It's also a very good read!