14 Nov 2018

Red List status of Mountain Gorilla and Fin Whale improved by conservation

The latest release of the IUCN Red List shows that the Mountain Gorilla is no longer Critically Endangered, and the Fin Whale no longer Endangered. However, many species, including fish and trees, are still suffering from over-exploitation.

Mountain Gorilla and child © Ludovic Hirlmann
By Margaret Sessa-Hawkins

The Mountain Gorilla is Critically Endangered no more.

According to the latest release of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the Mountain Gorilla Gorilla beringei beringei (one of two subspecies of the Eastern Gorilla), whose numbers once sank to just 680 individuals in the wild, has now been downlisted to Endangered. While the species is still under threat, intensive conservation actions such as anti-poaching patrols and the removal of snares have helped its population to rebound, and there are now more than 1,000 individuals in the wild.

Another beneficiary of strong conservation action is the Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus. Previously Endangered, the species is now classified as Vulnerable, thanks to international bans on commercial whaling in the North Pacific and the Southern Hemisphere. Historically threatened by over-exploitation for its oil and meat, the global population of the Fin Whale has roughly doubled since the 1970s.

“Today’s update to the IUCN Red List illustrates the power of conservation,” says Inger Andersen, IUCN Director General. “These conservation successes are proof that the ambitious, collaborative efforts of governments, business and civil society could turn back the tide of species loss.”

However, the Red List update also highlights that, despite notable conservation successes, many species are still in danger. In Lake Malawi, nearly 9% of the 458 fish species assessed are at a high risk of extinction. Three out of four species of Chambo, Malawi’s most economically valuable fish, are Critically Endangered, putting Chambo fisheries on the brink of collapse.

Lake Malawi is Africa’s third largest lake, and more than one-third of individuals in the country depend on it for their food and livelihoods. However, over-fishing has had a dramatic effect on marine populations. Between 2000 and 2010 the population of Chambo, for example, plummeted by 70 percent.

“Depleting fish stocks are a serious concern for food security, particularly for coastal communities in developing countries,” says Yvonne Sadovy, Co-Chair of IUCN SSC Grouper and Wrasse Specialist Group. “Human population growth places excess demand on fish species important to subsistence livelihoods and niche markets, and pressures to export are exacerbating the situation. Species decline significantly affects the affordability of fish species around the world, and reduces food security for the millions of people who depend on subsistence and small-scale fisheries for survival.”

It isn’t just animals that are at risk from over-exploitation. A West African tree, the Vene Pterocarpus erinaceus has been classified as Endangered due to the extreme demand for its wood for use in furniture, flooring, household utensils and construction. Currently, less than 2% of the Vene’s native forest is protected. Much of the tree’s range lies in conflict zones, where conservation is not a priority. This has led to illegal trade in Vene timber. While most West African countries have legislation in place to protect the tree, these laws are often not enforced.

The IUCN Red List is a global analysis of the conservation status of plant, animal and fungi species around the world. To date, more than 96,000 species have been assessed, and a total of 26,840 are currently considered threatened with extinction.

BirdLife International is a member of the Red List Partnership and the official Red List Authority on birds. On Thursday 22 November, BirdLife will release the results of the 2018 update to the Red List for birds, including changes to the global status of a number of high-profile species and updates to the factsheets for many more.