Extinction Crisis Escalates: Red List Shows Apes, Corals, Vultures, Dolphins All In Danger
The 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species – Photo Gallery
The photographs presented here represent a selection of species from the 2007 IUCN Red List and were contributed from a range of sources including IUCN SSC Specialist Group members and ARKive. For a wider selection of threatened species imagery, please see ARKive (www.arkive.org), an online multi-media of the world’s species.
|The Baiji (Lipotes vexillifer) is probably the most threatened cetacean species in the world. The last documented sighting of the species was in 2002 and in November/December 2006 surveys failed to find any individuals of the species in its native Yangtze River in China. The species has been listed as Critically Endangered since 1996, but in 2007 it was reassessed as Critically Endangered and flagged as Possibly Extinct. Entanglement in fishing gear, electric fishing practices, boat propeller strikes, dam construction, river siltation (from deforestation and agricultural expansion), and pollution have all contributed to the dramatic declines of this species. Further survey work is essential to confirm whether this species still exists or if it is indeed now extinct; for example, a reported sighting of the species in August 2007 requires confirmation. Photo © Mark Carwardine / NHPA / Photoshot. Photo provided by ARKive.|
|The Western Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) was uplisted from Endangered to Critically Endangered in 2007 after the Western Lowland Gorilla (G. g. gorilla) subspecies, suffered a population decline of more than 60% since the early 1980s. Hunting and deaths caused by Ebola were the main causes of this decline and both these threats continue to affect the Western Lowland Gorilla population. An investigation of Ebola outbreaks has revealed that if this disease continues at its current rate and trajectory, then the Western Lowland Gorilla abundance in all current protected areas could decline by 45% between 1992 and 2011. The Western Lowland Gorilla makes up most of the current Western Gorilla population. The other subspecies, Cross River Gorilla (G. g. diehli), was first listed as Critically Endangered in 1996. With fewer than 200 mature adults remaining in this population and ongoing habitat loss, it is still a highly threatened subspecies and remains in the Critically Endangered category. Photo © M. Watson / www.ardea.com. Photo provided by ARKive.|
|Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii) is listed as Critically Endangered. Endemic to the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, this ape has suffered a population decline of more than 80% over the last 75 years. The species is seriously threatened by logging (both legal and illegal), wholesale conversion of forest to agricultural land, and oil palm plantations, and fragmentation by roads. Animals are also illegally hunted and captured for the international pet trade but this appears to be more a symptom of habitat conversion, as orangutans are killed as pests when they raid fruit crops at the forest edge. Most orang-utans occur outside of protected areas. After a period of relative stability, pressure on these forests is increasing once again as a result of the recent peace accord, and a dramatic increase in demand for timber and other natural resources after the December 2004 tsunami. Photo © Anup Shah / naturepl.com. Photo provided by ARKive.|
|Speke’s Gazelle (Gazella spekei) is endemic to the Horn of Africa. Formerly widespread in the open barren grasslands of Somalia and the central coastal region, this gazelle currently inhabits a 20-40 km wide grassland plain that extends along the Indian Ocean coastline of Somalia. The species was rare in eastern Ethiopia in the mid-1980s, and extreme hunting pressure was on the verge of eliminating the species from the area even then. Political instability and periodic civil and military conflicts over the past 20 years in Somalia have resulted in a prevalence of weapons, over-exploitation of wildlife, and lack of protection for wildlife. An illegal wildlife trade, including in antelopes, has developed in Somalia during the last few years. Drought and overgrazing due to increasing numbers of domestic livestock have also negatively affected habitat. This gazelle has declined by more than 50% since 1988 and hence its status has been changed from Vulnerable to Endangered. Photo © Mark Bowler / NHPA / Photoshot. Photo provided by ARKive.|
|White-headed Vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis) was uplisted from Least Concern to Vulnerable in 2007. This vulture has an extremely large range in sub-Saharan Africa. It has declined rapidly in parts of West Africa since the early 1940s and in southern Africa is now largely confined to protected areas. It is estimated that the global population is around 2,600-4,700 pairs (7,000-12,500 mature individuals). Reductions in populations of medium-sized mammals and wild ungulates, as well as habitat conversion throughout its range best explain current decline. Additional threats are indirect poisoning by baits set to kill jackals in small-stock farming areas, although this species is less susceptible than other vultures owing to its broad diet. Exploitation for the international trade in raptors also poses a threat. Photo © Nigel J. Dennis / NHPA / Photoshot. Photo provided by ARKive.|
|The Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) has a large range, including southern Europe, Africa, and central Asia to northern India and Nepal. Nevertheless, this species has been uplisted from Least Concern to Endangered on the 2007 Red List following a very recent and extremely rapid population decline in India combined with severe long term declines in Europe (>50% over the last three generations) and West Africa, plus ongoing declines through much of the rest of its African range, owing to a variety of threats. Declines in parts of Africa are likely to have been driven by loss of wild ungulate populations and overgrazing in some areas by livestock. Disturbance, lead poisoning (from gun-shot) and collision with powerlines are currently impacting European populations. In India, it appears that the veterinary drug Diclofenac is driving the recent rapid declines. In Morocco at least, the species is taken for use in traditional medicine. Photo © Bernard Castelein / naturepl.com. Photo provided by ARKive.|
|The Mauritius Parakeet (Psittacula eques) survives only on Mauritius; it is now extinct on Réunion. This parakeet’s past decline and contracting distribution was caused by severe destruction and degradation of its native habitat. From the 1970s to the mid-1980s only 10 or so birds were known. However, after a period of successful breeding, the population size had grown to 16-22 by 1993-1994, and 59-73 wild birds by 1998. The rapid increase in population size since 1995 is due to intensive management of the wild population and discovery of previously unknown breeding birds. In January 2000 the population size was 106-126 wild individuals. This bird occupies only around 40 km2 of remnant native upland forest and uses only around 50% of this area regularly. The remaining habitat continues to be highly degraded by cyclones, influences of past forestry practices, spread of introduced plants and animals (e.g., pigs, Rusa Deer). As a result of the increased population size, P. eques was downlisted from Critically Endangered in 2007, but it is still threatened and is now listed as Endangered. Photo © Malcolm Burgess. Photo provided by ARKive.|
|Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) was uplisted from Endangered to Critically Endangered in 2007. Its historic range extended from the Indus River (Pakistan) to the Irrawaddy River (Myanmar). Today three widely separated breeding subpopulations are left in India, and one in Nepal. Its decline is mainly due to habitat loss through, for example, rivers being dammed and exploited for human uses, expansion of crop and livestock agricultural areas. Along with habitat loss, current serious threats to the species include entanglement in fishing nets and hunting; parts of the Gharial are still used in some traditional medicines, and its eggs are eaten by tribal people. Photo © G. & H. Denzau / naturepl.com. Photo provided by ARKive.|
|The Blunt-nosed Leopard Lizard (Gambelia sila) is endemic to California in the United States and is listed as Endangered. Its distribution and abundance have both been greatly reduced due to habitat loss to urbanization, water development projects, and agricultural development; intensive mineral development, off-road vehicle activity, pesticides, overgrazing, and flooding. The species has been eliminated from 94% of its original range since the mid-1800s and its currently known occupied range includes scattered parcels of undeveloped land on the floor of the San Joaquin Valley and in the foothills of the Coast Range. There are not many more than a few dozen distinct subpopulations. Photo © Patrick Briggs.|
|The Santa Catalina Island Rattlesnake (Crotalus catalinensis) is endemic to Isla Santa Catalina, a 40 km2 island in the Gulf of California, Mexico. It was formerly a common species, but has probably declined, principally due to over-collecting and the past impact of feral cats. The species is listed as Critically Endangered. The current main threat to this species is the loss of individuals by killing and illegal collection. Santa Catalina Island is home to 10 reptile species, of which seven are endemic. Island endemic reptile species are often the most wanted in the illegal trade market, and hence are usually more threatened. The passive behaviour of this species makes it easy to catch or kill. Population declines of its main prey, the Catalina Deermouse (Peromyscus slevini) is also an important threat. Photo © Ingo Arndt / naturepl.com. Photo provided by ARKive.|
|Phelsuma antanosy is a Critically Endangered gekko known from only two forests on Madagascar. Currently, there is a maximum of 9 km2 of suitable habitat available for this species. The population is severely fragmented and it is threatened by the destruction of its remaining forest habitat. Although new protected areas have been created within its range, illegal forest degradation continues. There are future plans to begin mining operations for ilmenite (used for creating titanium) in the area occupied by one of the remaining P. antanosy subpopulations, which threatens the future of this subpopulation Photo © Richard Jenkins.|
|The Coachella Valley Fringe-toed Lizard (Uma inornata) is endemic to southern California in the United States, and is restricted to the Coachella Valley in Riverside County. Its small historical range (around 839 km2) is now much reduced due to agricultural and urban development; its habitat has been degraded by stabilization of dunes by planted windbreaks. At least 80-90% of this lizard’s habitat has been lost. Roads and railroad cuttings fragment the remaining habitat. Sand migration due to winds may affect the long-term survival of this species at two of the sections of the Coachella Valley Preserve, as the dunes may be moving out of the conservation areas. The species is listed as Endangered. Photo © William Flaxington.|
|Historically the range of the Giant Gartersnake (Thamnophis gigas) included much of the floor of the Central Valley (Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys) of California, United Sates. This Vulnerable species apparently is now extirpated from most of its range in the San Joaquin Valley due to loss and fragmentation of wetland habitats. Habitat loss and degradation remain the greatest threats to the survival of this snake. In some areas, predation by and competition with introduced species, parasitism, and road kills may also be serious threats. Photo © Gary Nafis.|
|the Panamint Alligator Lizard (Elgaria panamintina) is known only from California in the United States. This Vulnerable species is known from several locations in desert mountains of Inyo and Mono counties, California. The known area of occupancy is very small (probably less than 5 km2). Most known locations are in canyon riparian zones below permanent springs. All but a few of the known subpopulations occur on private lands and are currently at risk from mining, feral and domestic livestock grazing, and increasing off-road vehicle activity. Photo © Gary Nafis.|
|The Banggai Cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni) is a rare example of a marine fish with an extremely limited geographic range. This Endangered fish is endemic to the Banggai Archipelago in Indonesia; its total range area is around 5,500 km2, however the maximum potential habitat available within this range is about 34 km2. The Banggai Cardinalfish is highly prized in the aquarium trade and has been heavily exploited since 1994, resulting in an 89% reduction in population size from the start of aquarium fishery in 1995-1996 to 2007. The present total population size is between 1.8 and 2.2 million individuals, but an estimated minimum of 700,000 to 900,000 fish are extracted every year for the aquarium trade. Significant destruction of its habitat due to dynamite fishing, recently discovered diseases and algal blooms which affect extensive areas of the species. coral field habitat are also major threats. Photo © B. Jones & M. Shimlock / NHPA / Photoshot. Photo provided by ARKive.|
|The Humphead Parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum) is listed on the 2007 Red List as Vulnerable. This Indo-Pacific marine fish is now considered globally rare, with local densities negatively correlated with fishing pressure and with suspected local extinctions at some localities. Underwater surveys across its range have either failed to detect this species or have detected only rare individuals. It is considered abundant only on the Great Barrier Reef and at Rowley Shoals (Australia). This is a large-sized, long-lived species with low replacement rates and high vulnerability to fishing pressure. It is an important coral reef species, maintaining ecosystem resilience; the species consumes reef carbonate; its absence highlights the potential for marked changes in ecosystem function. The main threat to the Humphead Parrotfish is fishing, particularly spearfishing. Photo © Georgette Douwma / naturepl.com. Photo provided by ARKive.|
|Floreana Coral (Tubastraea floreana) is a rare endemic coral to the Galápagos Archipelago. Before 1983, the species was known from only six sites. However, after the 1982-1983 El Niño event, it was not reported from any site until the early 1990s when three colonies were observed and photographed at Cousins, near Santiago. These colonies were observed each year until 2001 when they disappeared. Despite targeted searches throughout the Archipelago, the only colonies found recently were located at Gardner Islet, near Floreana in 2004. The dramatic reduction in this coral’s distribution immediately after the 1982-83 El Niño event suggests that this mortality resulted from the event. Presumably climate change is an additional threat. It is listed on the 2007 Red List as Critically Endangered. Photo © P. Humann / www.fishid.com. Photo provided by ARKive.|
|Wellington’s Solitary Coral (Rhizopsammia wellingtoni), endemic to the Galápagos Archipelago, was recorded from three sites prior to 1984. This coral was extremely abundant at Tagus Cove, Isabela, but all colonies have apparently disappeared since the 1982-83 El Niño event. It is possible that the species is now extinct, but further surveys are required to confirm this. Hence, it is listed on the 2007 Red List listed as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct). The threat of El Niño has not ceased, so if it still exists, there is likely to be continuing decline in the range of this species. Photo © P. Humann / www.fishid.com. Photo provided by ARKive.|
|Although apricots are widely cultivated in many countries, the Wild Apricot (Armeniaca vulgaris) is considered very rare in its natural range (China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan). In Kazakhstan it is only known from three localities. This species is the progenitor of all cultivated apricots, but construction, development of tourism resorts, cutting for fuel wood, harvesting of fruit and the collection of germplasm by both national and international plant breeding companies threaten the remaining trees in the wild. This species is therefore listed as Endangered. Photo © Damiano Avanzato.|
|The “Galápagos Kelp (Eisenia galapagensis) is an endemic species from the Galápagos Islands. Prior to the 1980s, the species was recorded from multiple sites across the central and western archipelago, but currently it is known only from western Fernandina and southwestern Isabela, in spite of targeted surveys for the species. There has been an estimated population decline of 30 to 50% every ten years for the last 30 years. There have been widespread declines in algal populations in the Galápagos because of an increase in density of grazing sea urchins and other herbivores following overexploitation of predators, along with El Niño disturbances, probably exacerbated by climate change. The species is assessed as Vulnerable. Photo © Sean Connell, University of Adelaide|
Life on Earth is disappearing fast and will continue to do so unless urgent action is taken, according to the 2007 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
There are now 41,415 species on the IUCN Red List and 16,306 of them are threatened with extinction, up from 16,118 last year. The total number of extinct species has reached 785 and a further 65 are only found in captivity or in cultivation.
One in four mammals, one in eight birds, one third of all amphibians and 70% of the world’s assessed plants on the 2007 IUCN Red List are in jeopardy.
Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director General of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), said: “This year’s IUCN Red List shows that the invaluable efforts made so far to protect species are not enough. The rate of biodiversity loss is increasing and we need to act now to significantly reduce it and stave off this global extinction crisis. This can be done, but only with a concerted effort by all levels of society.”
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is widely recognized as the most reliable evaluation of the world’s species. It classifies them according to their extinction risk and brings into sharp focus the ongoing decline of the world’s biodiversity and the impact that mankind is having upon life on Earth.
Jane Smart, Head of IUCN’s Species Programme, said: “We need to know the precise status of species in order to take the appropriate action. The IUCN Red List does this by measuring the overall status of biodiversity, the rate at which it is being lost and the causes of decline.
“Our lives are inextricably linked with biodiversity and ultimately its protection is essential for our very survival. As the world begins to respond to the current crisis of biodiversity loss, the information from the IUCN Red List is needed to design and implement effective conservation strategies – for the benefit of people and nature.”
Decline of the great apes
A reassessment of our closest relatives, the great apes, has revealed a grim picture. The Western Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) has moved from Endangered to Critically Endangered, after the discovery that the main subspecies, the Western Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla), has been decimated by the commercial bushmeat trade and the Ebola virus. Their population has declined by more than 60% over the last 20-25 years, with about one third of the total population found in protected areas killed by the Ebola virus over the last 15 years.
The Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii) remains in the Critically Endangered category and the Bornean Orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) in the Endangered category. Both are threatened by habitat loss due to illegal and legal logging and forest clearance for palm oil plantations. In Borneo, the area planted with oil palms increased from 2,000 km2 to 27,000 km2 between 1984 and 2003, leaving just 86,000 km2 of habitat available to the species throughout the island.
First appearance of corals on the IUCN Red List
Corals have been assessed and added to the IUCN Red List for the very first time. Ten Galápagos species have entered the list, with two in the Critically Endangered category and one in the Vulnerable category. Wellington’s Solitary Coral (Rhizopsammia wellingtoni) has been listed as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct). The main threats to these species are the effects of El Niño and climate change.
In addition, 74 seaweeds have been added to the IUCN Red List from the Galápagos Islands. Ten species are listed as Critically Endangered, with six of those highlighted as Possibly Extinct. The cold water species are threatened by climate change and the rise in sea temperature that characterizes El Niño. The seaweeds are also indirectly affected by overfishing, which removes predators from the food chain, resulting in an increase of sea urchins and other herbivores that overgraze these algae.
Yangtze River Dolphin listed as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct)
After an intensive, but fruitless, search for the Yangtze River Dolphin, or Baiji, (Lipotes vexillifer) last November and December, it has been listed as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct). The dolphin has not been placed in a higher category as further surveys are needed before it can be definitively classified as Extinct. A possible sighting reported in late August 2007 is currently being investigated by Chinese scientists. The main threats to the species include fishing, river traffic, pollution and degradation of habitat.
India and Nepal’s crocodile, the Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) is also facing threats from habitat degradation and has moved from Endangered to Critically Endangered. Its population has recently declined by 58%, from 436 breeding adults in 1997 to just 182 in 2006. Dams, irrigation projects, sand mining and artificial embankments have all encroached on its habitat, reducing its domain to 2% of its former range.
This year the total number of birds on the IUCN Red List is 9,956 with 1,217 listed as threatened. Vultures in Africa and Asia have declined, with five species reclassified on the IUCN Red List. In Asia, the Red-headed Vulture (Sarcogyps calvus) moved from Near Threatened to Critically Endangered while the Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) moved from Least Concern to Endangered. The rapid decline in the birds over the last eight years has been driven by the drug diclofenac, used to treat livestock.
In Africa, three species of vulture have been reclassified, including the White-headed Vulture (Trigonoceps occipitalis), which moved from Least Concern to Vulnerable, the White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus) and Rüppell’s Griffon (Gyps rueppellii), both moved from Least Concern to Near Threatened. The birds’ decline has been due to a lack of food, with a reduction in wild grazing mammals, habitat loss and collision with power lines. They have also been poisoned by carcasses deliberately laced with insecticide. The bait is intended to kill livestock predators, such as hyenas, jackals and big cats, but it also kills vultures.
North American reptiles added
After a major assessment of Mexican and North American reptiles, 723 were added to the IUCN Red List, taking the total to 738 reptiles listed for this region. Of these, 90 are threatened with extinction. Two Mexican freshwater turtles, the Cuatro Cienegas Slider (Trachemys taylori) and the Ornate Slider (Trachemys ornata), are listed as Endangered and Vulnerable respectively. Both face threats from habitat loss. Mexico’s Santa Catalina Island Rattlesnake (Crotalus catalinensis) has also been added to the list as Critically Endangered, after being persecuted by illegal collectors.
Plants in peril
There are now 12,043 plants on the IUCN Red List, with 8,447 listed as threatened. The Woolly-stalked Begonia (Begonia eiromischa) is the only species to have been declared extinct this year. This Malaysian herb is only known from collections made in 1886 and 1898 on Penang Island. Extensive searches of nearby forests have failed to reveal any specimens in the last 100 years.
The Wild Apricot (Armeniaca vulgaris), from central Asia, has been assessed and added to the IUCN Red List for the first time, classified as Endangered. The species is a direct ancestor of plants that are widely cultivated in many countries around the world, but its population is dwindling as it loses habitat to tourist developments and is exploited for wood, food and genetic material.
Banggai Cardinalfish heavily exploited by aquarium trade
Overfishing continues to put pressure on many fish species, as does demand from the aquarium trade. The Banggai Cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni), which is highly prized in the aquarium industry, is entering the IUCN Red List for the first time in the Endangered category. The fish, which is only found in the Banggai Archipelago, near Sulawesi, Indonesia, has been heavily exploited, with approximately 900,000 extracted every year. Conservationists are calling for the fish to be reared in captivity for the aquarium trade, so the wild populations can be left to recover.
These highlights from the 2007 IUCN Red List are merely a few examples of the rapid rate of biodiversity loss around the world. The disappearance of species has a direct impact on people’s lives. Declining numbers of freshwater fish, for example, deprive rural poor communities not only of their major source of food, but of their livelihoods as well.
Species loss is our loss
Conservation action is slowing down biodiversity loss in some cases, but there are still many species that need more attention from conservationists. This year, only one species has moved to a lower category of threat. The Mauritius Echo Parakeet (Psittacula eques), which was one of the world’s rarest parrots 15 years ago, has moved from Critically Endangered to Endangered. The improvement is a result of successful conservation action, including close monitoring of nesting sites and supplementary feeding combined with a captive breeding and release programme.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classifies species according to their extinction risk. It is a searchable online database containing the global status and supporting information on more than 41,000 species. Its primary goal is to identify and document the species most in need of conservation attention and provide an index of the state of biodiversity.
The IUCN Red List threat categories are the following, in descending order of threat:
- Extinct or Extinct in the Wild;
- Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable: species threatened with global extinction;
- Near Threatened: species close to the threatened thresholds or that would be threatened without ongoing specific conservation measures;
- Least Concern: species evaluated with a low risk of extinction;
- Data Deficient: no evaluation because of insufficient data.
Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct): This is not a new Red List category, but is a flag developed to identify those Critically Endangered species that are in all probability already Extinct but for which confirmation is required (for example, through more extensive surveys being carried out and failing to find any individuals).
The total number of species on the planet is unknown; estimates vary between 10 – 100 million, with 15 million species being the most widely accepted figure. 1.7 – 1.8 million species are known today.
People, either directly or indirectly, are the main reason for most species’ decline. Habitat destruction and degradation continues to be the main cause of species’ decline, along with the all too familiar threats of introduced invasive species, unsustainable harvesting, over-hunting, pollution and disease. Climate change is increasingly recognized as a serious threat, which can magnify these dangers.
Key findings from major analyses to date include:
- The number of threatened species is increasing across almost all the major taxonomic groups.
- IUCN Red List Indices, a new tool for measuring trends in extinction risk are important for monitoring progress towards the 2010 target. They are available for birds and amphibians and show that their status has declined steadily since the 1980s. An IUCN Red List Index can be calculated for any group which has been assessed at least twice.
- Most threatened birds, mammals and amphibians are located on the tropical continents – the regions that contain the tropical broadleaf forests which are believed to harbour the majority of the Earth’s terrestrial and freshwater species.
- Of the countries assessed, Australia, Brazil, China and Mexico hold particularly large numbers of threatened species.
- Estimates vary greatly, but current extinction rates are at least 100-1,000 times higher than natural background rates.
- The vast majority of extinctions since 1500 AD have occurred on oceanic islands, but over the last 20 years, continental extinctions have become as common as island extinctions.