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By Rachel Gartner

There are many things that assault your senses when you visit Southern Patagonia. First the wind, vicious and constant, which blows your glasses off your face, the hat off your head and, if you’re not careful, blowing you off the narrow path you happen to be walking along. Then there is the landscape. Grassy, dry, treeless plains that stretch for miles, until they hit the Andes, which seem to appear out of nowhere and take your breath away with their craggy, snowy peaks.

Finally, there is the wildlife. Guanacos (a close relation to llamas) grazing, skittish rheas with their young trailing behind them in an orderly line, scaly armadillos vacuuming insects from the ground. In the distance, Patagonian foxes sniff the air intently in search of their next snack, and pumas silently stalk. But perhaps most striking of all, the condors, soaring high above you, circling for carrion. If you’re really lucky, you might get to see them on the ground, hopping around a guanaco carcass, their intelligent and surprisingly handsome bald faces poking up above their feathery shoulders.

Like seeing the Andes for the first time, witnessing an Andean Condor Vultur gryphus in its natural habitat is a breath-taking experience. And one that may soon be denied to many. Unfortunately, our recent Red List update shows that the fate of the Condor across its entire range is looking increasingly bleak. If we don’t act soon, these majestic birds, who are so much a part of the Andean landscape, might be lost forever.  

While the number of Condors is decreasing across the entire continent, populations are smallest in the northern part of their range. There are fears that the species is now extinct in Venezuela, and there are only around 7,000 adults left across its range. “The Andean Condor is built to last. But humans are ruining its natural ‘live slow, die old’ life strategy, causing high death rates from which it is hard to recover,” says Ian Davidson, our Director in the Americas.

For anyone who has been following our coverage of the vulture crises affecting Asia, Europe and Africa, the threats facing condors will no doubt sound eerily familiar. Poisoning (both intentional and accidental) is at the top of the list, but condors are also being affected by habitat loss, illegal hunting and wildlife trade, competition for food from feral dog populations and collisions with energy infrastructure.

Most concerningly, there have been several mass poisonings reported in the last few years. Many ranchers across the region coat livestock carcasses in illegal organophosphate pesticides and other chemicals to ward off potential predators like pumas, foxes and feral dogs. In 2018 alone, over 120 Condors were confirmed to have been killed by poisoning, with one event in Argentinian Patagonia accounting for 23 deaths. This practice is not just harmful to condors, but all wildlife.

Could the sight of soaring condors become a thing of the past? © Kavram / Shutterstock
Could the sight of soaring condors become a thing of the past? © Kavram / Shutterstock

The impact of these combined threats on Old World vultures has been significant and serious. In Asia, vulture populations plummeted by 99% over a 20-year period because of the use of NSAIDs – drugs which are deadly to Old World vultures – in cattle farming. In Africa, seven vultures are threatened with extinction. If a similar pattern emerges in the Americas, the result would be catastrophic.

There is hope though. Our work to protect Old World vultures has shown that decisive and targeted action can be successful. Following a blanket ban on NSAIDs and the implementation of vulture safe zones in several Asian countries, vulture populations in the region are now showing signs of stabilising. In addition to banning harmful drugs and chemicals (and effectively enforcing these bans), the best tools in our arsenal to protect condors are increased habitat protection, awareness raising and education. And encouragingly, there are already a number of Condor conservation programmes up and running in South America.

The Andean Condor Working Group, established in 2012, brings together the efforts of a number of organisations focused on protecting condors in the region. Aves y Conservación (BirdLife in Ecuador), as a member of the Ecuador Working Group, has been participating in monitoring populations through a nationwide census and building awareness. A dedicated reserve was also set up by the Jocotoco Foundation in 2014, and there have been several successful releases in the country. Asociación Armonía (BirdLife in Bolivia) has also been actively engaged in monitoring condor populations and building awareness through education programmes in the community.

The Condor’s change in Red List status to Vulnerable provides us with a clear message that we need to scale up these conservation activities, and do more work to protect the species across its entire range. Acting quickly, we have the opportunity to avoid the same scale of crisis that has affected Old World Vultures.

At the crack of dawn on a typically chilly Patagonian morning a few years ago, your writer gathered with a number of other excited onlookers to watch the sun rise over the Fitz Roy mountain range in Argentina. As the sunlight coloured the mountains in a bright pink glow, the group was distracted by a condor taking flight, soaring higher and higher until it vanished out of view. The thought that this spectacle might become increasingly rare, or disappear altogether, is unspeakably sad – but not inevitable.

Q&A: Tatiana Santander, Project Coordinator, Aves y Conservación

When did the condor’s plight first appear on your radar?

We were the first organisation to launch a campaign to save the condor in Ecuador in the 1990s. We’ve been involved in helping to monitor Condors through the national census.

What measures have been instrumental in helping you gauge the extent of the situation?

Radio tracking – led by the Peregrine Fund and Fundacion Condor – has been crucial to building a better understanding of the species within Ecuador. For example, this tracking has shown us that the majority of condors are not within protected areas.

What are the next steps for condor conservation?

Environmental education is probably one of the most important activities that we need to focus on. In addition to building awareness with students and local communities – which we’ve done very successfully – we need to educate governments and decision-makers, since they have the power to make significant changes to help protect this species. In the future, we would like to create a Condor booth, a mobile education unit that can be easily taken into communities around the country.

Tatiana Santander, Project Coordinator, Aves y Conservación
Tatiana Santander, Project Coordinator, Aves y Conservación

Help us continue to identify and protect birds that most need our help

In December 2020, BirdLife unveiled this year’s Red List ups and downs – with mixed results for the world’s birds.

Related news

As one of BirdLife’s Red List researchers, Claudia Hermes has the inside track on the avian trends that are cause for most concern. And there’s one group in particular that keeps her awake at night. “I’m really worried about parrots in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

Judging by the 2020 IUCN Red List update, her concern is warranted. A further four parrot species from the new world tropics were uplisted to a higher threat category in the update, meaning that now, over half the region’s parrots are classified as Near Threatened, globally threatened or extinct – a proportion double the global figure. And this may represent only the tip of the iceberg: Hermes already envisages that further parrots from the Caribbean and Central America will be uplisted next year.

This year’s uplisted quartet – comprised of two amazons, a macaw and a parakeet –  are essentially facing the same set of threats, which Hermes describes as a combination of habitat loss and direct persecution or trade. But their uplisting also reflects improved understanding of avian ecology. Ornithologists recently recalculated generation lengths for all birds, prompting BirdLife’s Red List team to re-evaluate species against the IUCN criterion governing the rate of population decline across three generations. “For many amazons and macaws, generations transpire to be longer than we understood,” says Hermes, “so a species’ population decline over, say, a revised duration of 50 years, is more profound than when we thought three generation lengths were a decade shorter.”

This impact of this ostensibly technical point is particularly perturbing when combined with new information revealing populations are lower than assumed. This is the case for Great Green Macaw Ara ambiguus, now uplisted to Critically Endangered. Alarm bells were already ringing following calculations of a 34% decline over three generations in Ecuador and a 99% crash over the same period in Nicaragua/Costa Rica – the consequence of pressures such as habitat disturbance, including selective logging of a favoured nest tree, and trade. But the gamechanger was a shocking revelation that numbers in the presumed stronghold of Colombia were just one-tenth of the previous reckoning.

The second newly Critically Endangered parrot is a relative new kid on the block. Lilacine Amazon Amazona lilacina appeared on conservationists’ radar as recently as 2014, when BirdLife judged the Ecuadorian endemic to be a different species from the widespread Red-lored Amazon Amazona autumnalis. Although surveys over the past couple of years suggest there are more Lilacine Amazons than thought, data also suggest that numbers have declined by at least 80% over three generations. The main threat is illegal hunting for domestic pets: research published in 2020 predicts that the majority of local communities keep captive Lilacine Amazons. The problem is all too common. Sadly, the birds’ beauty – and human weakness for colourful creatures – is intrinsic to their downfall.

By James Lowen

The majority of local communities keep Lilacine Amazons in captivity © Steve Wilson

This is also true of Orange-fronted Parakeet Eupsittula canicularis, which occurs from Mexico to Costa Rica. One of Central America’s most abundant parrots, with an ability to adapt to deforestation and even tolerate urban areas, this wasn’t an obvious candidate for globally threatened status. Awareness of the scale of trapping changed all that. An estimated 570,000 individuals were illegally captured across the 25 years to 2019, particularly during the first half of that period. This suggested a population decline of up to 41% over three generations. Little wonder that our researchers catapulted this attractive parrot from Least Concern to Vulnerable.

At the margin, trade also affects Black-billed Amazon Amazona agilis. Endemic to Jamaica, this parrot has been uplisted from Vulnerable to Endangered. The impact of poaching has exacerbated the principal pressures of habitat destruction (notably a bauxite-mining concession), predation by invasive species such as rats and snakes, and, above all, climate change. “Climate change messes up everything”, says Hermes. “As an example, changes in rainfall patterns affect fruiting trees, which makes it harder for breeding adults to find food.” Sometimes this forces birds closer to villages – which heightens the risk of being captured. 

For species imperilled by the climate crisis, it can be hard to know what tangible conservation actions to suggest. Tentative proposals for Black-billed Amazon include protecting forest, implementing environmental education programmes and captive breeding. For other uplisted species, the way forward is a little clearer. In pockets of its range, Great Green Macaw is being helped – by Costa Rica’s Macaw Recovery Network, Colombia’s Fundación ProAves and Ecuador’s Fundación Jocotoco – through research, habitat protection, community engagement and reintroductions. More such action is needed, and more widely.

Meanwhile, thanks to enforcement of Mexican legislation banning trade, the deleterious impact of harvesting wild Orange-fronted Parakeets seems to be a thing of the past. Nevertheless, it will take years to ascertain whether the moratorium is sufficient to return the species to a lower category of threat. For Lilacine Amazon, the solution – alongside initiatives such as the reserve expansion with which the American Bird Conservancy (ABC, a BirdLife Partner in the US) is supporting Fundación Jocotoco – may lie in helping local communities convert their love of parrots into efforts to keep wild birds safe.

This all seems a lot to hope for particularly when, as Hermes admits, “time is running out to find solutions for these species”. But experience from BirdLife’s Americas Partnership and beyond suggests that positivity in justifiable.

Artificial nest boxes have been key to the Blue-throated Macaw's recovery © Asociación Armonía
Artificial nest boxes have been key to the Blue-throated Macaw’s recovery © Asociación Armonía

In Bolivia, BirdLife Partner Asociación Armonía – again with ABC backing – has long strived to rescue remnant populations of the Critically Endangered Blue-throated Macaw Ara glaucogularis (Critically Endangered). Armonía’s Barba Azul Nature Reserve protects seasonally important foraging and roosting sites for over a hundred macaws. In November 2020, the Bolivian government declared the protected area a ‘Private Natural Heritage Reserve’ – the first designated anywhere in the country in nine years.

“Our next challenge is to get macaws breeding there, so we protect their entire lifecycle”, says Tjalle Boorsma, Armonía’s Conservation Programme Director.  There are strong grounds for hope: at Armonía’s Laney Rickman reserve, a nest-box programme has fledged 93 birds since 2005. Just as excitingly, Armonía’s discovered three previously unknown Blue-throated Macaw breeding site during a 2020 survey of remote savannah grasslands. The resulting moderate population increase, to 312–455 birds, is building confidence in a sustained recovery.

As well as Blue-throated Macaw and Lilacine Amazon, Dan Lebbin (ABC’s vice-president for Threatened Species) says that twelve globally threatened or Near Threatened parrots have been the focus of targeted ABC conservation projects and programmes across Latin America and the Caribbean. These include helping Fundação Biodiversitas protect the most important colony of Lear’s Macaw Anodorhynchus leari. Thanks to conservation efforts, this Brazilian endemic recovered sufficiently to be downlisted from Critically Endangered to Endangered in 2009.

Roughly 80 other species have benefited from habitat protection across ABC and partners’ reserve network, including those of BirdLife Partners SAVE BrasilBahamas National Trust and Grupo Jaragua (BirdLife in the Dominican Republic). In 2019, ABC also established the Parrot Conservation Alliance, bringing together animal-rescue sanctuaries with environmental organisations to support wild-parrot conservation programmes in Latin America and the Caribbean. ABC’s experience, Lebbin says, “proves that conservation can reverse parrot declines”.

Outreach including a "parrot bus" saved Yellow-eared Parrots' palm trees © mauroossa/Shutterstock
Outreach including a “parrot bus” saved Yellow-eared Parrots’ palm trees © mauroossa/Shutterstock

Lebbin could equally have lauded another ABC-supported parrot success story brightening the latest Red List update. The fifth New World parrot to feature does so, thrillingly, because it has been downlisted. No longer is Yellow-eared Parrot Ognorhynchus icterotis Endangered, a remarkable feat given that barely 20 years ago, just 81 birds were left, all in Colombia. Subsequent work, led by Fundación ProAves (whose logo features the parrot) and Loro Parque Foundation, has returned spectacular dividends. By 2019, the parrot’s population had reached 2,601 birds, prompting its new categorisation as Vulnerable. For a species deemed Critically Endangered until 2010, this is an extraordinary turnaround.

Habitat protection and restoration, plus a ban on using wax palms in Palm Sunday celebrations and a successful public-awareness campaign, have all contributed to preventing this parrot’s extinction. Paul Salaman, who initiated the project, is particularly proud of the strength of community involvement, saying that “the dire plight of the Yellow-eared Parrot unified a nation to work collaboratively to save the species”. So resounding is the turn-around in this parrot’s fortunes that Salaman believes the Yellow-eared Parrot’s recovery “offers hope that we can make a difference even in the face of great adversity.”

However unsettled she may be about the parlous status of New World parrots, Salaman’s sentiment is one that Claudia Hermes can share. “As long as we react and get things done, all is not yet lost. There remains hope.”


Help us continue to identify and protect birds that most need our help

In December 2020, BirdLife unveiled this year’s Red List ups and downs – with mixed results for the world’s birds.

By Jessica Law

1. Red-legged Partridge loses its pear tree

Red-legged Partridge is now Near Threatened due to over-hunting & habitat loss © Pierre Dalous
Red-legged Partridge is now Near Threatened due to over-hunting & habitat loss © Pierre Dalous

This might not be the Christmas news you want to hear, especially in 2020. But this year, another bird species from the popular carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas” has been reclassified to a higher threat category on the IUCN Red List. The Red-legged Partridge Alectoris rufa, a colourful, instantly recognisable gamebird, has been classed as Near Threatened in this year’s update. The other bird named in the carol is the European Turtle-dove Streptopelia turtur, listed as Vulnerable since 2015. Both species are thought to be declining for similar reasons, including agricultural intensification, habitat loss and unsustainable hunting.

Although the Red-legged Partridge is commonly seen on farmland across southwest Europe, agricultural practices are becoming more and more intense, homogenising the mosaic of different habitats it needs to nest and feed. These include field margins, hedgerows and orchards (including pear trees!). Over-hunting probably had a hand in this, too: according to recent research, over 60% of its estimated population may be shot each year – just another sign that we desperately need to make both farming and hunting practices more sustainable.

2. Status of mysterious volcanic island birds revealed

The Tagula White-eye has been assessed as Near Threatened just in time © HBW
The Tagula White-eye has been assessed as Near Threatened just in time © HBW

Vanatinai Island, also known as Tagula, is a remote volcanic island in the southwest Pacific, 360 km southeast of Papua New Guinea. With its dense wooded mountain range jutting through smoky wisps of cloud, it resembles Jurassic Park, and for many years its bird species were as mysterious as the dinosaurs they evolved from. Due to the island’s remote, inaccessible landscape, little scientific research had been conducted, and until now some species have been classed as “Data Deficient” on the Red List.

This year, for the first time, we now know enough to properly assess the status of three species: the Tagula Honeyeater Microptilotis vicina, Tagula Butcherbird Cracticus louisiadensis and Tagula White-eye Zosterops meeki. And it looks like we’ve done so just in time, because two of the species – the Tagula Butcherbird and Tagula White-eye – are Near Threatened. Logging, agricultural expansion and commercial gold prospecting are destroying their rainforest habitats. These vital new discoveries came in large part from research lead by one scientist, William Goulding, whose ambition is to improve knowledge of all the endemic bird species of Tagula and the wider Louisiade Archipelago. His research projects employ and train local people and include public education and awareness-raising campaigns among island communities.

3. Junín Grebe swims against tide of extinction

The Junín Grebe's polluted lake is being cleaned up © Gunnar Engblom, Kolibri Expeditions
The Junín Grebe’s polluted lake is being cleaned up © Gunnar Engblom, Kolibri Expeditions

Another species came off the Critically Endangered list this year thanks to the hard work of scientists, government agencies and local people. The Junín Grebe Podiceps taczanowskii is a unique, flightless diving bird found only Lake Junín in the Peruvian highlands. Sadly, in the 20th century, the home it had adapted to so perfectly became a polluted prison, degraded by runoff from mining activities and sewage. Worse, its nesting areas would suddenly and fatally dry out as water was extracted to supply hydroelectric plants. By 1993, just 50 birds survived, and the fate of the entire species hung in the balance.

Thankfully, its plight did not go unnoticed. The lake was designated a Ramsar wetland of international importance and an Important Bird & Biodiversity Area, and in 2002 the Peruvian government passed an emergency law to clean large areas of water and place greater restrictions on water extraction. As part of BirdLife’s High Andean Wetland project, we helped Peruvian conservation group ECOAN to set up long-term research and community education programmes. The species has become a flagship for High Andean Wetland conservation, and while the tide hasn’t completely turned – it is still Endangered – it is definitely heading in the right direction.

4. Audouin’s Gull in sudden colony collapse

When predators strike, Audouin's Gull has nowhere else to flee to © Pintafontes
When predators strike, Audouin’s Gull has nowhere else to flee to © Pintafontes

Following a population increase and range expansion in recent decades, nobody expected that Audouin’s Gull Larus audouinii, a well-known Mediterranean seabird, would again become Vulnerable to extinction. Alarm bells began ringing when researchers reported the collapse of its largest breeding colony, at the Ebro Delta in northeast Spain, after several years of very low breeding. Although some birds are relocating and forming new colonies, overall numbers have been in steep decline since 2010 – which is what you might expect when the site that hosted two-thirds of its global population becomes unliveable.

So, what happened at the Ebro Delta? It seems to be a combination of factors, all of them manmade. On land, the loss of suitable habitat meant that, when predators started to naturally increase around the breeding site, the gulls had nowhere else to flee to. Indeed, many of the relocated colonies are in suboptimal habitats such as shipping ports. Problems also persist out at sea. Unusually for large gulls, Audouin’s Gull is a specialist fish eater rather than a scavenger, so is threatened by overfishing. The species is also a common victim of accidental “bycatch” by fishing vessels. And although we don’t yet know the full picture, this year’s Red List update has shown us where to look.

5. Seychelles Paradise-flycatcher: paradise restored

Seychelles Paradise-flycatcher is in recovery © Bildagentur Zoonar Gmbh / Shutterstock
Seychelles Paradise-flycatcher is in recovery © Bildagentur Zoonar Gmbh / Shutterstock

Great news for the Seychelles Paradise-flycatcher Terpsiphone corvina, a stunningly iridescent songbird, whose name, Terpsiphone, means “delightful voice” in Greek. As of this year, the species is no longer considered Critically Endangered. Formerly confined to La Digue island in the Seychelles, its population has steadily increased over the past two decades and has been successfully reintroduced to another part of its former range, Denis Island. The new colony is growing and thriving, and the flycatcher’s melodious, whistling call can be heard throughout the island’s forests, which are now predator-free thanks to an ongoing habitat restoration programme. A third population was introduced to Curieuse Island in 2018-2019, and has already started breeding successfully.

This heartening success is the result of years of hard work by Nature Seychelles (BirdLife Partner) and its collaborators. Together, they established a nature reserve from scratch, together with an education centre and a large-scale public awareness campaign. This included a drive to set up water baths at schools and community centres, to help all birds survive the dry season. The flycatcher is still classed as Vulnerable, and much of its habitat is still threatened by development projects, but its home is at least one step closer to paradise.

6. Local love of Black-necked Crane aids its recovery

Bhutan holds an annual "crane festival" to help the Black-necked Crane © Candle Tree
Bhutan holds an annual “crane festival” to help the Black-necked Crane © Candle Tree

The Black-necked Crane Grus nigricollis has moved one category closer to safety this year, from Vulnerable to Near Threatened – a shining example of the power of protected areas and habitat restoration. This majestic waterbird makes its home on the wetlands of the Tibetan plateau in western China, as well as adjacent parts of northern India and Bhutan. Over the years, this habitat has been encroached on by intensive agriculture and urbanisation.

Fortunately, there is already a lot of love for the bird in the community. It is revered in Buddhist traditions, and culturally safeguarded across much of its range. And while the birds are wary of humans, they sometimes become accustomed to local people who do not disturb them. In fact, according to findings from the BNHS (BirdLife in India), the cranes appear to be able to distinguish people in traditional dress, and are especially wary of others. This presented the unique opportunity to raise awareness and engage local people in the bird’s protection. Every year in November, Bhutan holds a festival to raise awareness of crane conservation, and the Black-necked Crane is the state bird of Jammu and Kashmir, India. With a recovering population and nature reserves being respected, the future looks bright.

7. Campbell Teal: home at last

Invasive species control has made the Campbell Teal's habitat safe again © Dick Daniels
Invasive species control has made the Campbell Teal’s habitat safe again © Dick Daniels

This year, the Campbell Teal Anas nesiotis becomes another success story in New Zealand’s ongoing ambition to control invasive species and restore its habitats’ natural equilibrium. Unusual in that it is both flightless and nocturnal, this small, iridescent dabbling duck has been reclassified from Endangered to Vulnerable. This is particularly impressive since it was thought extinct for many years after being wiped out by Brown Rats on its native home, Campbell Island, 700 kilometres south of mainland New Zealand. However, in 1975 it was rediscovered on Dent Island, a tiny nearby islet that had remained rat-free. The race was now on to restore this small, fragile population to its former range.

After much trial and error, conservationists successfully got this choosy bird to breed in captivity. An “insurance population” was released on Codfish Island, which was already pest-free and intensively managed for the Kakapo Strigops habroptila (Critically Endangered). Restoring the larger, remoter and more rugged Campbell Island was a far more ambitious affair, with the New Zealand Department of Conservation using helicopters to drop bait across the whole island. In 2004, after almost a century away, the species was brought back home, and has been thriving ever since.


Help us continue to identify and protect birds that most need our help

In December 2020, BirdLife unveiled this year’s Red List ups and downs – with mixed results for the world’s birds.

Related news

By Jessica Law

On 15th December, BirdLife will provide its annual update on the status of the world’s birds – revealing which species are facing a higher extinction risk, and which species are breathing a little easier. Ahead of this, the IUCN has revealed its update for other taxa –  and we’re pleased to share the news that an ancient member of Europe’s fauna is roaming the forests and plains once again. The European Bison Bison bonasus is Europe’s largest land mammal. Its looming outline formed an iconic part of prehistoric cave art, evidence of its vital role in the lives of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Today, the species has moved from Vulnerable to Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List thanks to continued conservation efforts.

This is an extremely inspiring development given the ungulate’s tragic history. The bison was hunted to extinction in the wild in the early 20th century, surviving only in captivity until its reintroduction in the 1950s. But it would take many more years of care and management before it truly started to thrive. Finally, between 2003 and 2019, its wild population skyrocketed from 1,800 to over 6,200 bison, justifying the move from Vulnerable to Near Threatened this year. Today, there are 49 free-ranging herds, with the largest numbers found in Poland, Belarus and Russia.

Dr Rafał Kowalczyk, co-author of the new assessment and member of the IUCN SSC Bison Specialist Group, stresses that the work is ongoing: “Historically, European bison were reintroduced mostly to forest habitats, where they don’t find enough food in winter. However, when they move out of the forest into agricultural areas, they often find themselves in conflict with people. To reduce the conflict risk and the bison’s dependence on supplementary feeding, it will be important to create protected areas that include open meadows for them to graze.”

Protected areas will allow the bison to graze without disturbing farmland © Rafał Kowalczyk
Protected areas will allow the bison to graze without disturbing farmland © Rafał Kowalczyk

This high-profile success is encouraging proof of the impact conservation can have when given enough investment and resources. Road maps such as these are all the more important as the extinction crisis accelerates: in this year’s Red List update, 31 species were officially announced extinct. These included 15 species of unique fish found only in Lake Lanao in the Philippines, whose demise came about due to invasive species, destructive fishing methods and overfishing.

Also on the extinction list are three Central American frog species, who have been wiped out by the devastating chytridiomycosis disease: a fungal infection rapidly spreading across the world’s amphibians, possibly exacerbated by climate change. Fortunately, efforts to protect critical habitats are helping several other amphibian species to recover. Among them is the Oaxaca Treefrog Sarcohyla celata, which moved from Critically Endangered to Near Threatened this year thanks to the dedication of local communities in Mexico.

“The conservation successes in today’s Red List update provide living proof that the world can set, and meet, ambitious biodiversity targets. They further highlight the need for real, measurable commitments as we formulate and implement the post-2020 global biodiversity framework,” said Dr Jane Smart, Global Director of IUCN’s Biodiversity Conservation Group.

With the addition of the Tucuxi this year, all freshwater dolphins are now threatened © Fernando Trujillo
With the addition of the Tucuxi this year, all freshwater dolphins are now threatened © Fernando Trujillo

Preventing future extinctions needs to be a priority in the new global plan for nature. With the Tucuxi dolphin Sotalia fluviatilis moving from Data Deficient to Endangered this year, all of the world’s freshwater dolphin species are now listed as threatened. The Tucuxi, a small grey dolphin found in the Amazon river system, has been decimated by accidental “bycatch” in fishing gear, damming of rivers and pollution. Their recovery will require eliminating the use of gillnets – curtains of fishing net that hang in the water – reducing the number of dams, and enforcing the ban on the deliberate dolphin hunting.

Even something as solid and familiar as the oak tree is no longer safe from human pressures. This year, a comprehensive assessment of this group of trees reveals that nearly a third – 113 of 430 species – are threatened with extinction. Land clearance for agriculture and logging are the most common threats in China, Mexico and Southeast Asia. In the USA, however, invasive alien species, diseases and climate change are the main concerns.

While this news may sound dispiriting, the Red List is far from the death knell it may appear to be. Instead, it is an early warning system, guiding us to where action is needed most. Species classed as threatened become a rallying point for scientists, governments and communities to focus their efforts. The Red List is far from an end point – in fact, it’s where it all begins.


Help us continue to identify and protect birds that most need our help

In December 2020, BirdLife unveiled this year’s Red List ups and downs – with mixed results for the world’s birds.

Related news