Category Archives: mass extinction

Polar Bear Endangered Status Likely

Environmental News network

LONDON – An accelerating melt of Arctic sea ice is likely to make the polar bear officially “endangered” in the very near future, the head of a global wildlife conservation network said on Wednesday.

“They’re running out of ice to be on,” said Julia Marton-Lefevre, the director general of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) which publishes an annual “Red List” of threatened species.

The IUCN, grouping 83 states and hundreds of conservation organizations, currently lists the polar bear as “vulnerable”.

“It’s likely to be increased to endangered… in the very near future, unfortunately,” Marton-Lefevre told the Reuters Environment Summit of the giant Arctic carnivore that is an emblem of manmade global warming for conservationists.

The Arctic saw record melting of sea ice this summer, a 30-year satellite record shows, prompting some scientists to predict an ice-free North Pole by the summer of 2050 or sooner.

Placing the polar bear on the second highest alert, below critically endangered, would underscore how manmade climate change has arrived and could even bring political fallout.

President George W. Bush’s administration will separately decide by year-end whether to add polar bears to its own threatened list, a move which would bar the government from jeopardizing their existence.


That could open a pandora’s box given that the United States is one of the world’s top two emitters of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming, alongside China.

Marton-Lefevre said the polar bear was a sign of a global “extinction crisis” which she said threatened, for example, half of all turtles and a quarter of mammals.

Extinctions could be the next global threat to hit the public eye, she said.

“All indications are exactly like the climate issue ten years ago. It looks bad. The climate issue was ignored for so long because scientists were very prudent.”

Preserving animals and plants could help protect mankind, she said. “When the tsunami hit we now know the parts of coastline without mangroves were worst affected,” she said of the Indian Ocean disaster of 2004.

The IUCN estimates that 16,000 species are threatened with extinction, not including those unknown or little understood.

Success stories are thin on the ground but include the Echo Parakeet, the only species that the IUCN this year downgraded, to endangered from critical, thanks to protection in a wooded corner of Mauritius.

“That’s a good story… There aren’t too many, this is the problem. This is a tiny little example to show that conservation can work.”

The polar bear’s main hunting trick is to use its snowy coats to blend in with a white background and so sneak up on seals, its main prey. In other words — no ice, no food.

– Additional reporting by Deborah Zabarenko in Washington

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Filed under arctic, climate change, endangered, environment, extinction, global warming, mammal, marine, mass extinction, nature, wildlife

Joint effort nets endangered shellfish


TORONTO (Reuters) – An international sting operation has netted 27 tonnes of an endangered shellfish, after DNA tests proved that imports labeled whelk meat actually came from the queen conch, authorities said on Wednesday.

The equivalent of seven fully loaded semi-trailers of queen conch meat, an endangered species that is widely used in Caribbean and Asian cooking, was found in shipments to several North American cities in an 18-month operation that began in March 2006, U.S. and Canadian officials said.

“This is way off the radar as far as anything we’ve seen in the past,” Sheldon Jordan, director of wildlife enforcement for the Quebec region at Environment Canada, told Reuters.

“(Wildlife trade) is third behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking as far as illegal activities worldwide, so this has an important economic impact in addition to the biological impact that it has by taking these species out of the ecosystems.”

The smugglers, based as far apart as Miami, Florida and Vancouver, British Columbia, would ship the mislabeled meat into Canada, and then redistribute it to the United States through Buffalo, New York.

The meat, also known as pink conch, is legally fished and consumed on a limited basis in some Caribbean countries, and its shells are sold as tourist souvenirs.

But overfishing in the 1970s and 1980s has left the queen conch endangered, prompting a near-total U.S. embargo on the meat from 2003 to 2006.

Jordan said three people had been charged with smuggling, along with two companies. Under Canadian law, the individuals could face up to five years in jail or a C$300,000 fine, or both, if they are convicted. U.S. penalties are up to five years imprisonment and fines, in this case, up to $1 million.

“The two interceptions that we had in Montreal in November of last year and Halifax in December basically cut the dragon off at the head,” he said of the operation.

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Filed under animals, biodiversity, endangered, extinction, habitat, mass extinction, wildlife

The Greatest Dying

The Greatest Dying
By Jerry Coyne and Hopi E. Hoekstra
The New Republic :: Monday 24 September 2007

A fate worse than global warming.

Two hundred fifty million years ago, a monumental catastrophe devastated life on Earth. We don’t know the cause – perhaps glaciers, volcanoes, or even the impact of a giant meteorite – but whatever happened drove more than 90 percent of the planet’s species to extinction. After the Great Dying, as the end-Permian extinction is called, Earth’s biodiversity – its panoply of species – didn’t bounce back for more than ten million years.

Aside from the Great Dying, there have been four other mass extinctions, all of which severely pruned life’s diversity. Scientists agree that we’re now in the midst of a sixth such episode. This new one, however, is different – and, in many ways, much worse. For, unlike earlier extinctions, this one results from the work of a single species, Homo sapiens. We are relentlessly taking over the planet, laying it to waste and eliminating most of our fellow species. Moreover, we’re doing it much faster than the mass extinctions that came before. Every year, up to 30,000 species disappear due to human activity alone. At this rate, we could lose half of Earth’s species in this century. And, unlike with previous extinctions, there’s no hope that biodiversity will ever recover, since the cause of the decimation – us – is here to stay.

To scientists, this is an unparalleled calamity, far more severe than global warming, which is, after all, only one of many threats to biodiversity. Yet global warming gets far more press. Why? One reason is that, while the increase in temperature is easy to document, the decrease of species is not. Biologists don’t know, for example, exactly how many species exist on Earth. Estimates range widely, from three million to more than 50 million, and that doesn’t count microbes, critical (albeit invisible) components of ecosystems. We’re not certain about the rate of extinction, either; how could we be, since the vast majority of species have yet to be described? We’re even less sure how the loss of some species will affect the ecosystems in which they’re embedded, since the intricate connection between organisms means that the loss of a single species can ramify unpredictably.

But we do know some things. Tropical rainforests are disappearing at a rate of 2 percent per year. Populations of most large fish are down to only 10 percent of what they were in 1950. Many primates and all the great apes – our closest relatives – are nearly gone from the wild.

And we know that extinction and global warming act synergistically. Extinction exacerbates global warming: By burning rainforests, we’re not only polluting the atmosphere with carbon dioxide (a major greenhouse gas) but destroying the very plants that can remove this gas from the air. Conversely, global warming increases extinction, both directly (killing corals) and indirectly (destroying the habitats of Arctic and Antarctic animals). As extinction increases, then, so does global warming, which in turn causes more extinction – and so on, into a downward spiral of destruction. Continue reading


Filed under biodiversity, disease, extinction, global warming, mass extinction, ocean, rainforests