Quarter of mammals at risk of extinction, conservationists warn
8,000 United Nations officials from 160 countries make a distressing "red list" of endangered species.7 October 2008
BARCELONA -- Nearly a quarter of the world's mammals are threatened by extinction, the Switzerland based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) warned Monday.
The congress, which brought together some 8,000 United Nations officials, experts and business representatives from 160 countries in the Spanish city of Barcelona, made public an alarming "red list" of endangered species.
The most comprehensive assessment of the world's mammals so far shows that at least 1,141 of the 5,487 listed species are in danger.
Because there is insufficient data on more than 800 species, the real figure could be as high as 36 percent, said Jan Schipper of Conservation International.
The overall IUCN red list compiled by 1,700 scientists includes 44,838 animal and plant species. Among them, 16,928 are in danger of extinction, around 1,300 more than a year ago.
The highest category of risk includes 3,246 species including 188 mammals. At least 76 mammals have already become extinct since 1500.
"The longer we wait, the more expensive it will be to prevent future extinctions," said Jane Smart, head of the IUCN's species programme.
Little earth hutia, a Cuban species of rodent, for instance, has not been seen in nearly 40 years.
The Iberian lynx, which lives in Spain and Portugal, only has a population between 84 and 143 adults.
Some animals, such as the Chinese Pere David's deer, exist only in captivity or semi-captivity.
Among non-mammals, amphibians are facing an extinction crisis, with 1,983 species threatened or extinct. Costa Rica's Holdridge's toad, for instance, has not been seen since 1986.
New species on the red list include Indian tarantulas, highly prized by collectors and threatened by the international pet trade, and the Palma giant lizard on Spain's Canary Islands, which was thought to be extinct but was rediscovered last year.
The reasons for the extinction crisis include habitat loss or degradation, which affect 40 percent of the world's mammals, pollution, hunting and fishing, diseases, and climate change.
"In the marine environment, the problem is not habitat loss, but accidental mortality" from fishing and maritime traffic as well as pollution, IUCN conservation expert Michael Hoffmann told the Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
The extinction crisis is the worst in Southeast Asia, where 80 percent of primates are threatened, Hoffmann said.
"Hunting and habitat loss are a severe problem" in that region, the South African biologist said. "They are hunting for food, pets and medicine," he explained.
Ted Turner, founder of CNN and of the United Nations Foundation, warned of a future "in hell" unless agreements were reached on key issues such as global warming, nuclear disarmament or population growth over the next 50 years.
Yet the IUCN survey also shows that conservation can bring species back from the brink of extinction, with five percent of currently threatened mammals showing signs of recovery in the wild.
The black-footed ferret in the United States, the wild horse in Mongolia, and the African elephant are examples of animals that have begun to recover.
Experts are calling for comprehensive conservation policies cutting across a wide range of issues, such as poverty reduction and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
Ordinary citizens also needed a new kind of environmental consciousness, Hoffmann said. "We need to think about what kind of food we eat, what kind of cars we drive, what kind of furniture we have," he said.
IUCN is the world's largest global environmental network, bringing together more than 1,000 government and NGO member organizations. The Barcelona congress runs from October 5 through 14.
[dpa / Expatica]