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Read it and weep.
Published on Wednesday, November 17, 2004
by Inter Press Service World on Alert
as Over 15,000 Species Face Extinction

by Sonny Inbaraj


Over 15,000 animal and plant species face extinction, reveals the World Conservation Union or IUCN in its '2004 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, said the IUCN at its 3rd World Conservation Congress held in the Thai capital from Nov. 17-25.

The global conference brings together 81 states, 114 government agencies, 800 plus non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and some 10,000 scientists and experts from 181 countries and has been billed as the one of biggest environmental meetings in history.

IUCN's 'Red List' is the most comprehensive scientific assessment of species at risk of dying out, and includes concrete measures to slow or reverse their extinction.

Although the 15,589 species threatened with extinction cover just over one percent of the world's described species, they include 12 percent of all bird species, 23 percent of all mammal species, 32 percent of all amphibian species, and 34 percent of all gymnosperms (mainly conifers and cycads).

''This is a wake up call for the world,'' said Steiner.  ''The evidence presented should make people worry about the future viability of the various ecosystems that we depend on.''

''Australia, Brazil, China, Indonesia and Mexico have particularly large numbers of threatened species,'' the report pointed out. It also revealed that Colombia, India, Malaysia, Burma, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, South Africa and the United States have a high number of threatened endemics for at least one taxonomic group.

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 recognised as a serious threat.

Among the key findings of the 2004 Global Species Assessment is that future conflicts between the needs of threatened species and rapidly-increasing human populations are predicted to occur in Cameroon, Colombia, Ecuador, India, Madagascar, Malaysia, Peru, Philippines, and Tanzania. 
Brazil, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Peru and the Philippines, with a large number of threatened species, are named as countries unable to financially invest in conservation.

''The world's conservation community has been ignored for far too long by those who are making fundamental economic and political decisions,'' said IUCN's Steiner. ''We are reaching the limits of exploitation and we need to reverse that.''

While most threats to biodiversity are human-driven, human actions alone can prevent many species from becoming extinct, said David Brackett, chair of IUCN's Species Survival Commission.  ''There are many examples of species being brought back from the brink, including the southern white rhinoceros."  The southern white rhinoceros had been fairly widespread throughout Namibia, Bostwana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa early in the 19th century.  By the turn of the 20th century, the white rhino had been reduced to two relict populations on the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border and the Umfolozi Game Reserve in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. A conscientious decision had been made on their protection and numbers increased from 700 animals in 1960 to over 11,500 free-ranging southern white rhinos in 2002. The southern white rhinoceros is now listed as near threatened on the IUCN 'Red List'.

The IUCN's 'Red List' demonstrates how little is known about the world's biodiversity.  ''Only three percent of the world's species have been assessed in this list,'' said Brackett. ''Other habitats are under threat, but we do not know enough about them yet.  However, the fact that we have many gaps in our knowledge should not be an excuse for inaction.  The 15,589 threatened species on the 'Red List' require urgent conservation attention if they are not to slip further towards extinction.''

2004 IPS