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The World Conservation Union Releases the 2004 Red List of Threatened Species: 15,589 Species Face Extinction

  • Wednesday, December 8, 2004

Bangkok, Thailand, 17 November 2004 (IUCN and The World Conservation Union).

A total of 15,589 species face extinction, reveals the 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. One in three amphibians and almost half of all freshwater turtles are threatened, on top of the one in eight birds and one in four mammals known to be in jeopardy.

From the mighty shark to the humble frog, the world's biodiversity is declining at unprecedented rates. Halting the growing extinction crisis will be a major concern for IUCN's 1,000 plus member organizations attending the 3rd IUCN World Conservation Congress, which kicked off in Bangkok on November 17, 2004.

The situation facing global biodiversity is clearly escalating. There is a need to draw the attention of the international community to the fact that species loss has critical implications for human well-being, and that conserving biodiversity is central to managing the risks this poses to sustainable development.

There is some good news. Conservation measures are already making a difference and a quarter of the world's threatened birds have benefited from such measures. What is needed is more of them, and to focus them better using the constantly improving information at our disposal. That means more resources, resources applied more effectively, and new coalitions across all sections of society.

These are among the key messages to emerge from the Global Species Assessment (GSA) based on, and released in conjunction with, the 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is the most comprehensive evaluation ever undertaken of the status of the world's biodiversity. The GSA is produced by the Red List Consortium comprising IUCN and its Species Survival Commission, Conservation International and its Center for Applied Biodiversity Science, BirdLife International and NatureServe.

The Global Species Assessment shows trends in biodiversity over four years since the last major analysis in 2000, and it includes, for the first time, complete assessments of amphibians, cycads (an ancient group of plants) and conifers, as well as regional case studies. It also highlights which species are at greatest risk of extinction, where they occur, and the many threats facing them.

"Governments are starting to realize the value of biodiversity and the critical role it plays in their peoples' wellbeing. Species provide food, medicine, fuel, and building materials. They help filter water, decompose waste, generate soil and pollinate crops. Recognition of this is growing but governments need to mobilize far more resources. The private sector also needs to play a central role by actively promoting and pursuing the sustainable use of the world's natural resources," said Mr David Brackett, Chair of IUCN's Species Survival Commission.

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). This infamous line-up has now been joined by one in three amphibians (32%) and almost half (42%) of turtles and tortoises.

People, either directly or indirectly, are the main reason for most species' declines. Habitat destruction and degradation are the leading threats but other significant pressures include over-exploitation for food, pets, and medicine, introduced species, pollution and disease. Climate change is increasingly recognized as a serious threat.

"While most threats to biodiversity are human-driven, human actions alone can prevent many species from becoming extinct. There are many examples of species being brought back from the brink including the southern white rhino and black-footed ferret, and thousands of dedicated people around the world are doing their utmost to reverse the extinction rate," he added. "But this cannot continue to be the task of the environmental community alone. Governments and business must commit to these efforts as well."

Since the release of the 2003 Red List, more than 15,633 new entries have been added and 3,579 species reassessed. There are now 7,266 threatened animal species and 8,323 threatened plant and lichen species. A total of 784 plant and animal species are now recorded as Extinct with a further 60 known only in cultivation or captivity.

Some key findings from the Global Species Assessment:

Numbers of threatened species are increasing across almost all the major taxonomic groups.

The marine environment is not as well known as the terrestrial environment but initial findings show that marine species are just as vulnerable to extinction as their terrestrial counterparts.

Freshwater habitats are also poorly known, but recent surveys reveal that many aquatic species are threatened with extinction.

Most threatened birds, mammals, and amphibians are located on the tropical continents - Central and South America, Africa south of the Sahara, and tropical South and Southeast Asia. These regions contain the tropical broadleaf forests which are believed to harbor the majority of the earth's living terrestrial and freshwater species.

Australia , Brazil, China, Indonesia and Mexico hold particularly large numbers of threatened species.

Countries with high numbers of threatened species and relatively low GNI include Brazil, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Peru and the Philippines.

The world's list of extinctions increases from 766 in 2000 to 784 documented extinctions since 1500 AD.

Although estimates vary greatly, current extinction rates are at least one hundred to a thousand times higher than background, or "natural" rates" .

Over the past 20 years, 27 documented extinctions or extinctions in the wild have occurred but this underestimates the true number that have taken place.

While the vast majority of extinctions since 1500 AD have occurred on oceanic islands, over the last 20 years, continental extinctions have become as common as island extinctions.

Humans have been the main cause of extinction and continue to be the principle threat to species at risk of extinction.

Habitat loss, introduced species, and over-exploitation are the main threats, with human-induced climate change becoming an increasingly significant problem.

For more information and to read IUCN's full press release click here.

A comprehensive information kit including profiles, case studies, photos, and graphics is available on the IUCN website: www.iucn.org.

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