Many Birds and Plants Also at Heightened Risk
Habitat loss, civil unrest and illegal hunting are driving a “devastating decline” of the iconic giraffe, the International Union for Conservation of Nature said today. The global giraffe population has plummeted by up to 40 percent over the last 30 years, and the species is now listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The assessment recognizes that the giraffe is facing a high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium-term future.
The updated list also signals grim news for many birds, wild plants, and Lake Victoria’s freshwater species, with ultimate threats to our own species’ wellbeing.
-Assessment of more than 700 newly recognised bird species finds 11 percent of them are threatened with extinction.
–The first assessments of wild oats, barley, mango and other crop wild relative plants determines that these species are increasingly critical to food security, as their genetic diversity can help improve crop resistance to disease, drought and salinity.
–Despite continuing conservation efforts to protect the immense diversity of life in Lake Victoria from growing threats, scientists are still seeing alarming declines in species populations.
Species Slipping Away
The Red List now includes 85,604 species, of which 24,307 are threatened with extinction.
“Many species are slipping away before we can even describe them,” says IUCN Director General Inger Andersen in today’s IUCN news statement. “This IUCN Red List update shows that the scale of the global extinction crisis may be even greater than we thought. Governments gathered at the UN biodiversity summit in Cancun have the immense responsibility to step up their efforts to protect our planet’s biodiversity – not just for its own sake but for human imperatives such as food security and sustainable development.”
Details and reaction included in the IUCN Statement:
Giraffe Impacted by Growing Human Population
The iconic giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis), one of the world’s most recognisable animals and the tallest land mammal, is now threatened with extinction.
The species, which is widespread across southern and eastern Africa, with smaller isolated subpopulations in west and central Africa, has moved from Least Concern to Vulnerable due to a dramatic 36-40 percent decline from approximately 151,702-163,452 individuals in 1985 to 97,562 in 2015.
The growing human population is having a negative impact on many giraffe subpopulations. Illegal hunting, habitat loss and changes through expanding agriculture and mining, increasing human-wildlife conflict, and civil unrest are all pushing the species towards extinction. Of the nine subspecies of giraffe, three have increasing populations, whilst five have decreasing populations and one is stable.
A resolution adopted at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in September this year called for action to reverse the decline of the giraffe.
“Whilst giraffe are commonly seen on safari, in the media and in zoos, people – including conservationists – are unaware that these majestic animals are undergoing a silent extinction, says Julian Fennessy, co-chair of the IUCN SSC Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group. “With a decline of almost 40 percent in the last three decades alone, the world’s tallest animal is under severe pressure in some of its core ranges across East, Central and West Africa. As one of the world’s most iconic animals, it is timely that we stick our neck out for the giraffe before it is too late.”
The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) supports the management and monitoring of key sites for giraffe in the wild, including the Tsavo Conservation Area in Kenya via the SMART patrol management system, and has also supported the development of Kenya’s first National Giraffe Conservation Strategy. Both ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo are home to giraffes, and ZSL co-hosts the IUCN SSC Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group with the Giraffe Conservation Foundation. Co-chair of the Specialist Group, ZSL’s Dr Noëlle Kümpel warns: “Most people have no idea that both species of giraffid, the giraffe and its lesser-known Congolese rainforest cousin the okapi, are suffering dramatic declines and are now both threatened with extinction. IUCN recently passed a key resolution calling for greater awareness and efforts to secure the future of these hugely charismatic, iconic and gentle species in the wild, including safeguarding key protected areas.”
Birds: Newly Recognised, Already Threatened
This IUCN Red List update includes the reassessment of all bird species. Thanks to a comprehensive taxonomic review compiled by BirdLife International, working in collaboration with the Handbook of the Birds of the World, the overall number of bird species assessed has reached 11,121.
A total of 742 newly recognised bird species have been assessed, 11% of which are threatened. For example, the recently described Antioquia wren (Thryophilus sernai) has been listed as Endangered as more than half of its habitat could be wiped out by a single planned dam construction. Habitat loss to agriculture and degradation by invasive plants have also pushed the striking Comoro blue vanga (Cyanolanius comorensis) into the Endangered category.
Thirteen of the newly recognised bird species enter the IUCN Red List as Extinct. Several of these have been lost within the past 50 years – such as the Pagan reed-warbler(Acrocephalus yamashinae), O’ahu akepa (Loxops wolstenholmei) and Laysan honeycreeper (Himatione fraithii). All of these species were endemic to islands, and were most likely wiped out by invasive species.
“Unfortunately, recognising more than 700 ‘new’ species does not mean that the world’s birds are faring better,” says Ian Burfield, BirdLife’s Global Science Coordinator. “As our knowledge deepens, so our concerns are confirmed: unsustainable agriculture, logging, invasive species and other threats – such as the illegal trade highlighted here – are still driving many species towards extinction.”
IUCN Red List assessments also reveal that some of the world’s most popular birds may soon disappear in the wild if appropriate action isn’t taken. Iconic species, such as the African grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus) – a prized pet with the ability to mimic human speech – are facing extinction in the wild due to unsustainable trapping and habitat loss. Native to central Africa, the grey parrot has seen its conservation status deteriorate from Vulnerable to Endangered. A study led by BirdLife International discovered that in some parts of the continent numbers of grey parrots have declined by as much as 99%.
The situation is most pressing in Asia, with the rufous-fronted laughingthrush (Garrulax rufifrons), scarlet-breasted lorikeet (Trichoglossus forsteni) and Straw-headed bulbul(Pycnonotus zeylanicus) among a suite of species being uplisted to higher threat categories as a result of the impacts of illegal wildlife trade. There is now evidence that unsustainable levels of capture for the cagebird trade, largely centred on Java, are driving the deteriorating status of many species.
However, there is good news for some of the rarest and most vulnerable birds on our planet – those that exist only on small, isolated islands. The Azores bullfinch (Pyrrhula murina), St Helena plover (Charadrius sanctaehelenae) and Seychelles white-eye (Zosterops modestus) are among the island endemic species to move to lower categories in this IUCN Red List update, as their populations recover from the brink of extinction thanks to tireless conservation efforts.
“It is certainly a concern that iconic species like the loquacious African grey parrot (Endangered) and the giraffe, Giraffa camelopardalis (Vulnerable) are now listed as Threatened,” states Thomas Lacher, Jr. from Texas A&M University. “In addition, four wild relatives of the common mango are now Endangered and an additional wild relative Extinct in the Wild. The loss of genetic diversity in the wild relatives of many of our domestic food crops only erodes future options for new crop resources under changing climates.”
“Several newly recognized bird species have made it to the Red List as Extinct, suggesting that extinction rates for other taxa are likely higher than we think. Yet there are bright spots – many rare and vulnerable birds have shown signs of recovery, providing good evidence that it is not too late to recover extant populations that are balancing on the brink of extinction,” says Leah Gerber, Director, Center for Biodiversity Outcomes, Arizona State University.
This update of birds for the IUCN Red List reflects the second of a two-part comprehensive taxonomic review of birds; this update focused on passerine birds – ‘perching birds’ such as flycatchers, thrushes, crows and finches – and has led to the recognition of 742 new species, many of which were previously treated as subspecies of other species. The new total of 6,649 passerines implies that avian diversity at the species level was previously underestimated by more than 10%. BirdLife now applies a single, consistent taxonomic approach worldwide, across all species. As a result, the number of recognised species rises above 11,000 for the first time to 11,121. Thirteen out of the 742 newly recognised species are already extinct – all were island endemics – and likely driven extinct by invasive species (on Hawai’i, Pacific islands, Indian Ocean islands, Galápagos and Bermuda).
Crop Wild Relatives
With this update, the first assessments of 233 wild relatives of crop plants such as barley, oats and sunflowers have been added to the IUCN Red List. Habitat loss, primarily due to agricultural expansion, is the major threat to many of these species. The assessments were completed as part of a partnership between Toyota Motor Corporation and IUCN, whose aim is to broaden the IUCN Red List to include the extinction risk of many species that are key food sources for a significant portion of the global population.
Crop wild relatives are a source of genetic material for new and existing crop species, allowing for increased disease and drought resistance, fertility, nutritional value and other desirable traits. Almost every species of plant that humans have domesticated and now cultivate has one or more crop wild relatives. However, these species have received little systematic conservation attention until now.
Four mango species have been listed as Endangered, and the Kalimantan mango(Mangifera casturi) has been listed as Extinct in the Wild. These species are relatives of the common mango (Mangifera indica) and are threatened by habitat loss. Native to South Asia, mangoes are now cultivated in many tropical and sub-tropical countries and they are one of the most commercially important fruits in these regions.
A relative of cultivated asparagus, hamatamabouki (Asparagus kiusianus), which is native to Japan, has been listed as Endangered due to habitat loss caused by urban expansion and agriculture. Loss of habitat is also the main threat to the Anomalus sunflower (Helianthus anomalus) which has been listed as Vulnerable and is a relative of the sunflower (H. annuus). Cicer bijugum, native to Iran and Turkey, is a wild relative of the chickpea (C. arietinum); it has been listed as Endangered due to habitat conversion to agriculture.
“Crop wild relative species are under increasing threat from urbanisation, habitat fragmentation and intensive farming, and probably climate change,” says Kevin Butt, General Manager, Regional Environmental Sustainability Director, Toyota Motor North America. “To conserve this vital gene pool for crop improvement we need to urgently improve our knowledge about these species. Toyota is pleased to provide support for the assessment of these and other species on The IUCN Red List.”
Botanical Gardens Conservation International (BCGI) statement: “The addition of new species to the IUCN Red List, some of them already threatened with extinction, emphasises the urgency to produce conservation assessments to better prioritise species in need of conservation action as soon as the species are discovered. The first assessments of many crop wild relatives also highlight the need for conservation action, both in situ and ex situ, to ensure our future food security.”
“It is critical as a global community that we continue to identify, prioritize, and conserve biodiversity, and the diversity of crop wild relatives, as we experience more and more climate driven impacts. These species can help crops and communities become more resilient and adapt to new conditions created by climate change,” says Daniela Raik, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, Moore Center for Science.
Freshwater species – Lake Victoria
All freshwater molluscs, crabs, dragonflies and freshwater fishes native to Lake Victoria in central Africa are included in this update. Key threats to Lake Victoria – known as Darwin’s dream pond due to its high biodiversity – include invasive species such as the Nile perch(Lates niloticus), overharvesting, sedimentation due to logging and agriculture, as well as water pollution from pesticides and herbicides.
“Despite continuing conservation efforts to protect the immense diversity of life in Lake Victoria from growing threats, we are still seeing alarming declines in species populations, as this Red List update shows. Systematic monitoring at the species level has been lacking so far, and we urgently need to invest in monitoring and more conservation action to protect these species, many of which are critical to the livelihoods of people living around the lake,” says William Darwall, Head of IUCN Freshwater Biodiversity Unit.
This post was compiled from materials distributed by IUCN.