Daily Archives: September 19, 2007

Vultures vanishing – even scavengers face extinction

The Globe and Mail

Global crisis growing more grim, World Conservation Union says, adding new threatened species to its death watch

Even the vultures are in trouble. They are drowning in water troughs, colliding with power lines and going hungry because there are fewer dead animals to feed on.

The World Conservation Union released its annual Red List of Threatened Species yesterday, the most authoritative catalogue of species on the brink. The 2007 report contains sobering news about the escalating global extinction crisis, and the increasingly tenuous hold of vultures, great apes and other creatures and plants.

Of the 41,415 vulnerable species on the list, 16,306 are in danger of disappearing forever, up from 16,118 last year. At least 785 plant and animals species have already been wiped out, and now the white-headed vulture, found in sub-Saharan Africa, could follow them into oblivion.

“Threats include reduction in carrion, including medium-sized mammals and wild grazing mammals,” the report says. Habitat loss is also a factor, as are encroaching humans; the birds will abandon their nests if they are disturbed by people. Vultures have also died after eating carcasses deliberately laced with insecticides, which were intended to kill hyenas, jackals and other livestock predators.

Two other African species – Ruppell’s griffon and the white-backed vulture, are also at risk, although are not considered in such imminent danger. In Asia, the red-headed vulture is now considered critically endangered, the World Conservation Union’s red alert category.

The “vulture crisis,” as it has been dubbed, is part of a grim trend.

“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,” says Julia Marton-Lefevre, director-general of the World Conservation Union. It used to be known as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources and has kept its old acronym, IUCN.

This year, scientists reassessed the status of the great apes, which includes six species of gorillas, chimps, orangutans and bonobos, and a number of subspecies. They found our closest relatives are moving more swiftly toward extinction than previously believed.

The western lowland gorilla has lost 80 per cent of its population in three generations. The gorillas have been hit by the commercial bush meat trade and the Ebola virus. About one-third of the animals living in protected areas were killed by Ebola in the past 15 years.

A vaccine is being tested and might help, says Mike Hoffmann, a program officer with the IUCN in Washington. The gorillas are more vulnerable to Ebola than humans; 95 per cent of infected animals die, compared with the 50- to-85-per-cent mortality rate in people.

But Ebola is only part of the picture. Habitat destruction is a major factor in the decline of the gorillas and the other great apes, Dr. Hoffmann says.

Habitat protection is also key to saving many of the 50 plants and animals that live in Canada and are on the 2007 list, including the shortnose sturgeon, the whooping crane and the sea otter. But most threatened birds, mammals and amphibians live in the tropics. Australia, Brazil, China and Mexico have particularly large numbers of threatened species.

The World Conservation Union has been evaluating species on a global scale for 30 years. More than 10,000 scientists from 147 countries work on the inventory. They put plants and animals into one of nine categories: extinct, extinct in the wild, critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, near threatened, least concern, data deficient and not evaluated.

They added corals to the list for the first time this year, including 10 species from the Galapagos Islands. Seventy-four species of Galapagos seaweed were also put on the list.

The only species to be declared a goner in 2007 was the woolly stalked begonia, a Malaysian herb that has not been seen for 100 years.

HUMANS THREATEN LIFE OF PLANET

Of all the species found by the World Conservation Union to be threatened, 99 per cent are at risk from human activity.

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.

Almost 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.

NEAR THREATENED

The Breede River Redfin declines in Africa are the result of alien invasive species and agricultural practices.

ENDANGERED

The great hammerhead shark is found in tropical waters throughout the world and is threatened by demand for its fins and by being accidentally caught by fishermen.

CRITICALLY ENDANGERED

Floreana coral, native to the Galapagos Archipelago. Colonies disappeared from all known sites after the 1982-1983 El Nino.

Increased sea temperatures are thought to be responsible.

PLANTS

In 2007, 70 per cent of the species evaluated were considered threatened:

1996/98: 5,328

2007: 8,447

VERTEBRATES

Number threatened in 2007, as a percentage of species evaluated:

Mammals: 22%

Birds: 12%

Reptiles: 30%

Amphibians: 31%

Fish: 39%

1996/98: 3,314

2007: 5,742

INVERTEBRATES

Number threatened in 2007, as a percentage of species evaluated:

Insects: 50%

Mollusks: 44%

Crustaceans: 83%

Corals: 38%

Others: 51%

1996/98: 1,891

2007: 2,108

SOURCE: IUCN – THE WORLD CONSERVATION UNION

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Gorillas, hammerhead sharks at risk-Red List

Reuters

 Sept 12 (Reuters) – Following are highlights of a 2007 “Red List” of endangered species of animals and plants issued by the World Conservation Union on Wednesday.

The Union, which comprises governments, conservation groups and scientists, said that 16,306 species are threatened in a mounting global “extinction crisis”, up from 16,119 in 2006.

WESTERN LOWLAND GORILLA. Moved from Endangered to Critically Endangered in 2006. The number of gorillas, found in several central African nations, has fallen by 60 percent in the last 20-25 years because of the Ebola virus and hunting. Logging has opened up roads for hunters to reach once impenetrable forests.

YANGTZE RIVER DOLPHIN OR BAIJI. Moved to Endangered/Possibly Extinct from Critically Endangered in 2006. The last firm sighting of the baiji, a type of dolphin unique to China’s Yangtze River, was in 2002. The baiji have been killed by entanglement in fishing gear, boat propellers, dam construction, silting up of the river and pollution.

GREAT HAMMERHEAD SHARK. Endangered, previously insufficient data. The sharks’ fins are prized as a delicacy, hammerheads also suffer from getting entangled in nets and only breed once every two years. Numbers in the eastern Atlantic may have crashed by 80 percent in the last 25 years.

BORNEAN AND SUMATRAN ORANGUTANS. Sumatran orangutans are critically endangered, Bornean endangered: unchanged after a new survey. About 7,300 Sumatran orangutans live in the wild while there are probably fewer than 45,000 to 69,000 in Borneo. Both are threatened by habitat loss, to palm oil plantations in Borneo and to logging in Sumatra.

CORALS/SEAWEEDS. Three corals from the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific are entering the Red List for the first time — the first coals on the list and threatened by climate change and the sea warming effect known as El Nino. Also, 74 Galapagos seaweeds have been added in 2007.

GHARIAL. Moved to Critically Endangered from Endangered. A type of crocodile found in India and Nepal, the gharial suffers from a loss of habitat because of dams, irrigation, artificial embankments and sand mining. The population has crashed from 436 in 1997 to 182 in 2006.

VULTURES. Both Asian and African vultures are under threat. In Asia, the Egyptian vulture has moved from Least Concern to Endangered and the Red-headed vulture from Near Threatened to Critically Endangered. Numbers have fallen partly because a drug used for livestock, diclofenac, is poisonous for vultures. In Africa, three vulture species are facing greater threats.

WOOLLY STALKED BEGONIA. The woolly stalked begonia is the only species declared Extinct this year. It was only found on Penang Island, Malaysia.

BANGGAI CARDINALFISH. Endangered, entering the list for the first time. The Indonesian fish, with zebra-like stripes, are prized by the aquarium industry with 900,000 caught every year.

MAURITIUS ECHO PARAKEET. In a success story, the bird is moving from Critically Endangered to Endangered. The world’s rarest parrot 15 years ago but there are now more than 320 in the wild after captive breeding, better protection and feeding.

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Ebola said depleting gorilla populations

Associated Press

GENEVA (AP) — The most common type of gorilla is now “critically endangered,” one step away from global extinction, according to the 2007 Red List of Threatened Species released Wednesday by the World Conservation Union.

The Ebola virus is depleting Western Gorilla populations to a point where it might become impossible for them to recover.

Commercial hunting, civil unrest and habitat loss due to logging and forest clearance for palm oil plantations are compounding the problem, said the Swiss-based group known by its acronym IUCN.

“Great apes are our closest living relatives and very special creatures,” Russ Mittermeier, head of IUCN’s Primate Specialist Group, told The Associated Press. “We could fit all the remaining great apes in the world into two or three large football stadiums. There just aren’t very many left.”

In all, 16,306 species are threatened with extinction, 188 more than last year, IUCN said. One in four mammals are in jeopardy, as are one in eight birds, a third of all amphibians and 70 percent of the plants that have been studied.

“Life on Earth is disappearing fast and will continue to do so unless urgent action is taken,” the IUCN warned.

The Western Gorilla’s main subspecies – the Western Lowland Gorilla – has been decimated by the Ebola virus, which has wiped out about a third of the gorillas found in protected areas over the last 15 years.

“In the last 10 years, Ebola is the single largest killer of apes. Poaching is a close second,” said Peter Walsh, a member if IUCN’s Primate Specialist Group, told the AP. “Ebola is knocking down populations to a level where they won’t bounce back. The rate of decline is dizzying. If it continues, we’ll lose them in 10-12 years.”

Female gorillas only start reproducing at the age of 9 or 10 and only have one baby about every five years. Walsh said even in ideal conditions, it would take the gorillas decades to bounce back.

The World Conservation Union also said the Yangtze River dolphin is now “possibly extinct.” There have been no documented sightings of the long-snouted cetacean since 2002. An intensive search of its habitat in November and December proved fruitless but more searches are needed as one was possibly spotted in late August.

The Redheaded Vulture soared from “near threatened” to “critically endangered.” The birds’ rapid decline over the last eight years is largely due to diclofenac, a painkiller given to ill or injured farm cattle so they can still work. But the substance poisons the vultures when they scavenge livestock carcasses.

Only 182 breeding adults of the Gharial crocodile remain, down almost 60 percent from a decade ago. India and Nepal’s crocodile has become critically endangered because dams, irrigation projects and artificial embankments have reduced its habitat to just 2 percent of its former range.

The woolly-stalked begonia is the only species declared extinct this year. Extensive searches have failed to uncover any specimens of the Malaysian herb in the last century, IUCN said.

Only one species moved to a lesser category of threat. One of the world’s rarest parrots 15 years ago, the Mauritius Echo parakeet, eased back from critically endangered to only endangered. That was a result of close monitoring of its nesting sites, and supplementary feeding combined with a captive breeding and release program.

IUCN says 785 species have disappeared over the last 500 years. A further 65 are found only in artificial settings such as zoos.

The Red List, produced by a worldwide network of thousands of experts, includes some 41,000 species and subspecies around the globe.

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