Wild Fish No Longer Healthy?

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Report: Toxins found in whales bode ill for humans

AGADIR, Morocco - Sperm whales feeding even in the most remote reaches of Earth's oceans have built up stunningly high levels of toxic and heavy metals, according to American scientists who say the findings spell danger not only for marine life but for the millions of humans who depend on seafood.

A report released Thursday noted high levels of cadmium, aluminum, chromium, lead, silver, mercury and titanium in tissue samples taken by dart gun from nearly 1,000 whales over five years. From polar areas to equatorial waters, the whales ingested pollutants that may have been produced by humans thousands of miles away, the researchers said.

"These contaminants, I think, are threatening the human food supply. They certainly are threatening the whales and the other animals that live in the ocean," said biologist Roger Payne, founder and president of Ocean Alliance, the research and conservation group that produced the report.

The researchers found mercury as high as 16 parts per million in the whales. Fish high in mercury such as shark and swordfish — the types health experts warn children and pregnant women to avoid — typically have levels of about 1 part per million.

The whales studied averaged 2.4 parts of mercury per million, but the report's authors said their internal organs probably had much higher levels than the skin samples contained.

"The entire ocean life is just loaded with a series of contaminants, most of which have been released by human beings," Payne said in an interview on the sidelines of the International Whaling Commission's annual meeting.

Payne said sperm whales, which occupy the top of the food chain, absorb the contaminants and pass them on to the next generation when a female nurses her calf. "What she's actually doing is dumping her lifetime accumulation of that fat-soluble stuff into her baby," he said, and each generation passes on more to the next.

Ultimately, he said, the contaminants could jeopardize seafood, a primary source of animal protein for 1 billion people.

"You could make a fairly tight argument to say that it is the single greatest health threat that has ever faced the human species. I suspect this will shorten lives, if it turns out that this is what's going on," he said.

Payne called his group's $5 million project the most comprehensive report ever done on ocean pollutants.

U.S. Whaling Commissioner Monica Medina informed the 88 member nations of the whaling commission of the report and urged the commission to conduct further research.

The report "is right on target" for raising issues critical to humans as well as whales, Medina told The Associated Press. "We need to know much more about these problems."

Payne, 75, is best known for his 1968 discovery and recordings of songs by humpback whales, and for finding that some whale species can communicate with each other over thousands of miles.

The 93-foot Odyssey, a sail-and-motor ketch, set out in March 2000 from San Diego to document the oceans' health, collecting pencil-eraser-sized samples using a dart gun that barely made the whales flinch.

After more than five years and 87,000 miles, samples had been taken from 955 whales. The samples were sent for analysis to marine toxicologist John Wise at the University of Southern Maine. DNA was compared to ensure the animals were not tested more than once.

Payne said the original objective of the voyage was to measure chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants, and the study of metals was an afterthought.

The researchers were stunned with the results. "That's where the shocking, sort of jaw-dropping concentrations exist," Payne said.

Though it was impossible to know where the whales had been, Payne said the contamination was embedded in the blubber of males formed in the frigid polar regions, indicating that the animals had ingested the metals far from where they were emitted.

"When you're working with a synthetic chemical which never existed in nature before and you find it in a whale which came from the Arctic or Antarctic, it tells you that was made by people and it got into the whale," he said.

How that happened is unclear, but the contaminants likely were carried by wind or ocean currents, or were eaten by the sperm whales' prey.

Sperm whales are toothed whales that eat all kinds of fish, even sharks. Dozens have been taken by whaling ships in the past decade. Most of the whales hunted by the whaling countries of Japan, Norway and Iceland are minke whales, which are baleen whales that feed largely on tiny krill.

Chromium, an industrial pollutant that causes cancer in humans, was found in all but two of the 361 sperm whale samples that were tested for it. Those findings were published last year in the scientific journal Chemosphere.

"The biggest surprise was chromium," Payne said. "That's an absolute shocker. Nobody was even looking for it."

The corrosion-resistant metal is used in stainless steel, paints, dyes and the tanning of leather. It can cause lung cancer in people who work in industries where it is commonly used, and was the focus of the California environmental lawsuit that gained fame in the movie "Erin Brockovich."

It was impossible to say from the samples whether any of the whales suffered diseases, but Wise found that the concentration of chromium found in whales was several times higher than the level required to kill healthy cells in a Petri dish, Payne said.

He said another surprise was the high concentrations of aluminum, which is used in packaging, cooking pots and water treatment. Its effects are unknown.

The consequences of the metals could be horrific for both whale and man, he said.

"I don't see any future for whale species except extinction," Payne said. "This is not on anybody's radar, no government's radar anywhere, and I think it should be."

hu Jun 24, 8:06 PM
By Arthur Max, The Associated Press

Mass Extinction Underway, Majority of Biologists Say

Washington Post
Tuesday, April 21, 1998

The Current Mass Extinction: Human beings are currently causing the greatest mass extinction of species since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. If present trends continue one half of all species of life on earth will be extinct in less than 100 years, as a result of habitat destruction, pollution, invasive species, and climate change.

[Note: scroll down this page for HUNDREDS of links to updates about the current mass extinction. Most recent update: May 13, 2010.]

By Joby Warrick
Staff Writer

A majority of the nation's biologists are convinced that a "mass extinction" of plants and animals is underway that poses a major threat to humans in the next century, yet most Americans are only dimly aware of the problem, a poll says.

The rapid disappearance of species was ranked as one of the planet's gravest environmental worries, surpassing pollution, global warming and the thinning of the ozone layer, according to the survey of 400 scientists commissioned by New York's American Museum of Natural History.

The poll's release yesterday comes on the heels of a groundbreaking study of plant diversity that concluded than at least one in eight known plant species is threatened with extinction. Although scientists are divided over the specific numbers, many believe that the rate of loss is greater now than at any time in history.

"The speed at which species are being lost is much faster than any we've seen in the past -- including those [extinctions] related to meteor collisions," said Daniel Simberloff, a University of Tennessee ecologist and prominent expert in biological diversity who participated in the museum's survey. [Note: the last mass extinction caused by a meteor collision was that of the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago.]

Most of his peers apparently agree. Nearly seven out of 10 of the biologists polled said they believed a "mass extinction" was underway, and an equal number predicted that up to one-fifth of all living species could disappear within 30 years. Nearly all attributed the losses to human activity, especially the destruction of plant and animal habitats.

Among the dissenters, some argue that there is not yet enough data to support the view that a mass extinction is occurring. Many of the estimates of species loss are extrapolations based on the global destruction of rain forests and other rich habitats.

Among non-scientists, meanwhile, the subject appears to have made relatively little impression. Sixty percent of the laymen polled professed little or no familiarity with the concept of biological diversity, and barely half ranked species loss as a "major threat."

The scientists interviewed in the Louis Harris poll were members of the Washington-based American Institute of Biological Sciences, a professional society of more than 5,000 scientists.

U.N. report: Eco-systems at 'tipping point'

CNN) -- The world's eco-systems are at risk of "rapid degradation and collapse" according to a new United Nations report.

The third Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO-3) published by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) warns that unless "swift, radical and creative action" is taken "massive further loss is increasingly likely."

Ahmed Djoghlaf, executive secretary of the CBD said in a statement: "The news is not good. We continue to lose biodiversity at a rate never before seen in history."

The U.N. warns several eco-systems including the Amazon rainforest, freshwater lakes and rivers and coral reefs are approaching a "tipping point" which, if reached, may see them never recover.

The report says that no government has completely met biodiversity targets that were first set out in 2002 -- the year of the first GBO report.

Executive Director of the U.N. Environmental Program Achim Steiner said there were key economic reasons why governments had failed in this task.

"Many economies remain blind to the huge value of the diversity of animals, plants and other life-forms and their role in healthy and functioning eco-systems," Steiner said in a statement.

Although many countries are beginning to factor in "natural capital," Steiner said that this needs "rapid and sustained scaling-up."

Despite increases in the size of protected land and coastal areas, biodiversity trends reported in the GBO-3 are almost entirely negative.

Vertebrate species fell by nearly one third between 1970 and 2006, natural habitats are in decline, genetic diversity of crops is falling and sixty breeds of livestock have become extinct since 2000.

Nick Nuttall, a U.N. Environmental Program spokesman, said the cost of eco-systems degradation is huge.

"In terms of land-use change, it's thought that the annual financial loss of services eco-systems provide -- water, storing carbon and soil stabilization -- is about €50 billion ($64 billion) a year," Nuttall told CNN.

"If this continues we may well see by 2050 a cumulative loss of what you might call land-based natural capital of around €95 trillion ($121 trillion)," he said.

"If we start putting these figures on the table, then governments might actually wake up to this. We've had a financial crisis. We've also got a natural resource scarcity crisis looming fast."

The GBO-3 is a landmark study in what is the U.N.'s International Year of Biodiversity and will play a key role in guiding the negotiations between world governments at the U.N. Biodiversity Summit in Nagoya, Japan in October 2010.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged governments to give biodiversity a "higher priority in all areas of decision making and in all economic sectors" and called for a "new vision for biological diversity."

The CBD -- an international treaty designed to sustain diversity of life on Earth -- was set up at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

Life on Earth Under Serious Threat

02 July 2009 | News - Press Release

Life on Earth is under serious threat, despite the commitment by world leaders to reverse the trend, according to a detailed analysis of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.

The IUCN analysis, which is published every four years, comes just before the deadline governments set themselves to evaluate how successful they were in achieving the 2010 target to reduce biodiversity loss. The IUCN report, Wildlife in a Changing World, shows the 2010 target will not be met.

“When governments take action to reduce biodiversity loss there are some conservation successes, but we are still a long way from reversing the trend,” says Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Head of IUCN’s Species Programme and senior editor of the publication. “It’s time to recognize that nature is the largest company on Earth working for the benefit of 100 percent of humankind – and it’s doing it for free. Governments should put as much effort, if not more, into saving nature as they do into saving economic and financial sectors.”

The report analyses 44,838 species on the IUCN Red List and presents results by groups of species, geographical regions, and different habitats, such as marine, freshwater and terrestrial.

It shows 869 species are Extinct or Extinct the Wild and this figure rises to 1,159 if the 290 Critically Endangered species tagged as Possibly Extinct are included. Overall, a minimum of 16,928 species are threatened with extinction. Considering that only 2.7 percent of the 1.8 million described species have been analyzed, this number is a gross underestimate, but it does provide a useful snapshot of what is happening to all forms of life on Earth.

An increased number of freshwater species have now been assessed, giving a better picture of the dire situation they face. In Europe, for example, 38 percent of all fishes are threatened and 28 percent in Eastern Africa. The high degree of connectivity in freshwater systems, allowing pollution or invasive species to spread rapidly, and the development of water resources with scant regard for the species that live in them, are behind the high level of threat.

In the oceans, the picture is similarly bleak. The report shows that a broad range of marine species are experiencing potentially irreversible loss due to over-fishing, climate change, invasive species, coastal development and pollution. At least 17 percent of the 1,045 shark and ray species, 12.4 percent of groupers and six of the seven marine turtle species are threatened with extinction. Most noticeably, 27 percent of the 845 species of reef building corals are threatened, 20 percent are Near Threatened and there is not enough data for 17 percent to be assessed. Marine birds are much more threatened that terrestrial ones with 27.5 percent in danger of extinction, compared with 11.8 percent of terrestrial birds.

“Think of fisheries without fishes, logging without trees, tourism without coral reefs or other wildlife, crops without pollinators,” says Vié. “Imagine the damage to our economies and societies if they were lost. All the plants and animals that make up Earth’s amazing wildlife have a specific role and contribute to essentials like food, medicine, oxygen, pure water, crop pollination, carbon storage and soil fertilization. Economies are utterly dependent on species diversity. We need them all, in large numbers. We quite literally cannot afford to lose them.”

The report shows nearly one third of amphibians, more than one in eight birds and nearly a quarter of mammals are threatened with extinction. For some plant groups, such as conifers and cycads, the situation is even more serious, with 28 percent and 52 percent threatened respectively. For all these groups, habitat destruction, through agriculture, logging and development, is the main threat and occurs worldwide.

In the case of amphibians, the fungal disease chytridiomycosis is seriously affecting an increasing number of species, complicating conservation efforts. For birds, the highest number of threatened species is found in Brazil and Indonesia, but the highest proportion of threatened or extinct birds is found on oceanic islands. Invasive species and hunting are the main threats. For mammals, unsustainable hunting is the greatest threat after habitat loss. This is having a major impact in Asia, where deforestation is also occurring at a very rapid rate.

"The report makes for depressing reading,” says Craig Hilton Taylor, Manager of the IUCN Red List Unit and co-editor. “It tells us that the extinction crisis is as bad, or even worse, than we believed. But it also shows the trends these species are following and is therefore an essential part of decision-making processes. In the run-up to 2010, the global community should use this report wisely to address the situation.”

Climate change is not currently the main threat to wildlife, but this may soon change, according to the report. After examining the biological characteristics of 17,000 species of birds, amphibians and reef building corals, the report found that a significant proportion of species that are currently not threatened with extinction are susceptible to climate change. This includes 30 percent of non-threatened birds, 51 percent of non-threatened corals and 41 percent of non-threatened amphibians, which all have traits that make them susceptible to climate change.

Red List Indices make it possible to track trends of extinction risk in groups of species. New indices have been calculated and provide some interesting results. Birds, mammals, amphibians and corals all show a continuing deterioration, with a particularly rapid decline for corals. Red List Indices have also been calculated for amphibian, mammal and bird species used for food and medicine. The results show that bird and mammal species used for food and medicine are much more threatened. The diminishing availability of these resources has an impact on the health and well-being of the people who depend on them directly.

“The IUCN Red List provides a window on many of the major global issues of our day, including climate change, loss of freshwater ecosystems and over-fishing,” says Simon Stuart, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission and co-editor. “Unless we address the fundamental causes of unsustainability on our planet, the lofty of goals of governments to reduce extinction rates will count for nothing.”

To read the full report, Wildlife in a Changing World – an analysis of the 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, please click here: http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/RL-2009-001.pdf

For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:

* Sarah Horsley, IUCN Media Relations Officer, t +41 22 999 0127, m +41 79 526 3486, e sarah.horsley@iucn.org

Notes to editors

* In 2002, almost all governments committed to the 2010 biodiversity target “to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on Earth”. The way the 2010 target was phrased highlights the reasons why we should care about nature: its utilitarian value and the fact that it is essential to human wellbeing, but also its intrinsic value (aesthetical, spiritual and recreational).
* Although only 2.7 percent of the world’s 1.8 million described species have been assessed so far, the IUCN Red List provides a useful snapshot of what is happening to species today and highlights the urgent need for conservation action.
* The IUCN Red List has a long established history as the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of plant and animal species. It is based on an objective system of assessing the risk of extinction for a species. Species listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable are collectively described as threatened. The IUCN Red List is not just a register of names and associated threat categories. It is a rich compendium of information on the threats to the species, their ecological requirements, where they live, and information on conservation actions that can be used to reduce or prevent extinctions.
* Wildlife in a changing world consists of a detailed analysis of The IUCN Red List and presents the results by groups of species and biomes (freshwater, marine, terrestrial). It also explains in detail what the Red List really is, how the assessments are conducted, emphasizing the great progress made in recent years to broaden the diversity of species included on the List. One chapter is dedicated to the growing threat represented by climate change. It also includes a section dedicated to the Mediterranean region, a biodiversity hotspot under threat, where our knowledge of biodiversity has greatly increased in recent years.
* Birds are the best known group with less than one percent of species classified as Data Deficient, meaning that we do not have enough information to say if they are threatened or not. However, for many groups, we cannot say what the situation is for a large proportion of species and many of them could well be threatened: 47 percent of 1,045 species of sharks and rays, 35 percent of marine mammals and 24 percent of amphibians are Data Deficient.
* It is not all bad news. Species can recover with concerted conservation efforts. In 2008, 37 improvements in status were recorded for mammals. An estimated 16 bird species avoided extinction over the last 15 years due to conservation programmes. Conservation does work, but to mitigate the extinction crisis much more needs to be done, and quickly. “Conservationists are often considered as alarmists but we need to continue to alert decision-makers to the risk of inaction and the need to give up short term political strategies solely based on economic results,” says Vié. “As shown by the economic and financial crisis, people who raise warning flags should be listened to. Wildlife needs an increased level of attention and our society needs to undertake major changes to safeguard its own future.”

Quote from Partners

BirdLife International “The IUCN Red List is the gold standard for identifying the most urgent conservation priorities, says Stuart Butchart. “This analysis is the most comprehensive published to date, and advances our understanding of the scale and complexity of the current biodiversity crisis, and the actions needed to tackle it.”

Zoological Society of London “Within our lifetime, hundreds of species of birds, mammals and amphibians could be lost as a result of human actions,” says Ben Collen. “Initial studies on the world’s smaller species such as dragonflies, corals and freshwater crabs indicate that threat levels may be similar or even greater. We must set clear goals to reverse these trends and ensure that our enduring legacy is not to wipe out the small things provide us with great benefits such as pollination, nutrient cycling, and climate regulation.”

About the publication
Wildlife in a changing world is made available on the web at http://data.iucn.org/dbtw-wpd/edocs/RL-2009-001.pdf. Printed copies will be available in August. A French version will be available later this year. Eight factsheets summarizing the main findings of the different chapters have been produced and are available in English, French and Spanish.
The publication is composed of 7 illustrated sections and 12 detailed appendices. It includes a large number of figures, maps and pictures.

Photos are available below. These photographs may only be reproduced in connection with this story and should be credited as indicated. Please contact sarah.horsley@iucn.org for more information.

Extinction crisis continues apace

03 November 2009 | News - Press Release

The latest update of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ shows that 17,291 species out of the 47,677 assessed species are threatened with extinction.

The results reveal 21 percent of all known mammals, 30 percent of all known amphibians, 12 percent of all known birds, and 28 percent of reptiles, 37 percent of freshwater fishes, 70 percent of plants, 35 percent of invertebrates assessed so far are under threat.

“The scientific evidence of a serious extinction crisis is mounting,” says Jane Smart, Director of IUCN’s Biodiversity Conservation Group. “January sees the launch of the International Year of Biodiversity. The latest analysis of the IUCN Red List shows the 2010 target to reduce biodiversity loss will not be met. It’s time for Governments to start getting serious about saving species and make sure it’s high on their agendas for next year, as we’re rapidly running out of time.”

Of the world’s 5,490 mammals, 79 are Extinct or Extinct in the Wild, with 188 Critically Endangered, 449 Endangered and 505 Vulnerable. The Eastern Voalavo (Voalavo antsahabensis) appears on the IUCN Red List for the first time in the Endangered category. This rodent, endemic to Madagascar, is confined to montane tropical forest and is under threat from slash-and-burn farming.

There are now 1,677 reptiles on the IUCN Red List, with 293 added this year. In total, 469 are threatened with extinction and 22 are already Extinct or Extinct in the Wild. The 165 endemic Philippine species new to the IUCN Red List include the Panay Monitor Lizard (Varanus mabitang), which is Endangered. This highly-specialized monitor lizard is threatened by habitat loss due to agriculture and logging and is hunted by humans for food. The Sail-fin Water Lizard (Hydrosaurus pustulatus) enters in the Vulnerable category and is also threatened by habitat loss. Hatchlings are heavily collected both for the pet trade and for local consumption.

“The world’s reptiles are undoubtedly suffering, but the picture may be much worse than it currently looks,” says Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission. “We need an assessment of all reptiles to understand the severity of the situation but we don’t have the $2-3 million to carry it out.”

The IUCN Red List shows that 1,895 of the planet’s 6,285 amphibians are in danger of extinction, making them the most threatened group of species known to date. Of these, 39 are already Extinct or Extinct in the Wild, 484 are Critically Endangered, 754 are Endangered and 657 are Vulnerable.

The Kihansi Spray Toad (Nectophrynoides asperginis) has moved from Critically Endangered to Extinct in the Wild. The species was only known from the Kihansi Falls in Tanzania, where it was formerly abundant with a population of at least 17,000. Its decline is due to the construction of a dam upstream of the Kihansi Falls that removed 90 percent of the original water flow to the gorge. The fungal disease chytridiomycosis was probably responsible for the toad’s final population crash.

The fungus also affected the Rabb’s Fringe-limbed Treefrog (Ecnomiohyla rabborum), which enters the Red List as Critically Endangered. It is known only from central Panama. In 2006, the chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis) was reported in its habitat and only a single male has been heard calling since. This species has been collected for captive breeding efforts but all attempts have so far failed.

Of the 12,151 plants on the IUCN Red List, 8,500 are threatened with extinction, with 114 already Extinct or Extinct in the Wild. The Queen of the Andes (Puya raimondii) has been reassessed and remains in the Endangered category. Found in the Andes of Peru and Bolivia, it only produces seeds once in 80 years before dying. Climate change may already be impairing its ability to flower and cattle roam freely among many colonies, trampling or eating young plants.

There are now 7,615 invertebrates on the IUCN Red List this year, 2,639 of which are threatened with extinction. Scientists added 1,360 dragonflies and damselflies, bringing the total to 1,989, of which 261 are threatened. The Giant Jewel (Chlorocypha centripunctata), classed as Vulnerable, is found in southeast Nigeria and southwest Cameroon and is threatened by forest destruction.

Scientists also added 94 molluscs, bringing the total number assessed to 2,306, of which 1,036 are threatened. All seven freshwater snails from Lake Dianchi in Yunnan Province, China, are new to the IUCN Red List and all are threatened. These join 13 freshwater fishes from the same area, 12 of which are threatened. The main threats are pollution, introduced fish species and overharvesting.

There are now 3,120 freshwater fishes on the IUCN Red List, up 510 species from last year. Although there is still a long way to go before the status all the world’s freshwater fishes is known, 1,147 of those assessed so far are threatened with extinction. The Brown Mudfish (Neochanna apoda), found only in New Zealand, has been moved from Near Threatened to Vulnerable as it has disappeared from many areas in its range. Approximately 85-90 percent of New Zealand's wetlands have been lost or degraded through drainage schemes, irrigation and land development.

"Creatures living in freshwater have long been neglected. This year we have again added a large number of them to the IUCN Red List and are confirming the high levels of threat to many freshwater animals and plants. This reflects the state of our precious water resources. There is now an urgency to pursue our effort but most importantly to start using this information to move towards a wise use of water resources,” says Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Head of the IUCN Species Programme.

“This year’s IUCN Red List makes for sobering reading,” says Craig Hilton-Taylor, Manager of the IUCN Red List Unit. “These results are just the tip of the iceberg. We have only managed to assess 47,663 species so far; there are many more millions out there which could be under serious threat. We do, however, know from experience that conservation action works so let’s not wait until it’s too late and start saving our species now.”

The status of the Australian Grayling (Prototroctes maraena), a freshwater fish, has improved as a result of conservation efforts. Now classed as Near Threatened as ctes opposed to Vulnerable, the population has recovered thanks to fish ladders which have been constructed over dams to allow migration, enhanced riverside vegetation and the education of fishermen, who now face heavy penalties if found with this species.

For more information please visit www.iucnredlist.org.

Notes to editors

Photos available to download below.

The latest review of the IUCN Red List, “Wildlife in a Changing World: an analysis of the 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species” can be downloaded here: http://iucn.org/about/work/programmes/species/red_list/review/

Global figures for 2009 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species:
Total species assessed = 47,677
Total Extinct or Extinct in the Wild = 875 (2%) [Extinct = 809; Extinct in the Wild = 66].
Total threatened = 17,291 (36%) [Critically Endangered = 3,325; Endangered = 4,891; Vulnerable = 9,075].
Total Near Threatened = 3,650 (8%).
Total Lower Risk/conservation dependent = 281 (<1%) [this is an old category that is gradually being phased out of the Red List]
Total Data Deficient = 6,557 (14%)
Total Least Concern = 19,023 (40%)

Global figures for 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species:
Total assessed = 44,838
Total Extinct or Extinct in the Wild = 869 (2%) [Extinct = 804 ; Extinct in the Wild = 65]
Total threatened = 16,928 (38%) [Critically Endangered = 3,246; Endangered = 4,770; Vulnerable = 8,912]
Total Near Threatened = 3,513 (8%)
Total Lower Risk/conservation dependent = 283 (<1%) [this is an old category that is gradually being phased out of the Red List]
Total Data Deficient = 5,570 (12%)
Total Least Concern = 17,675 (39%)

NB: Not all species on the IUCN Red List are threatened. There are now more species on the IUCN Red List. This means that the overall percentage of threatened species has gone down by two percent. This is not because the status of the world’s biodiversity is improving, but because we have assessed more species. In the past, Red List assessments often focused on species that were already thought to be threatened, but as the Red List grows to include more complete assessments across entire groups, we are beginning to have a better idea of the relative proportion of species which are threatened against those which are not threatened.

For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:

* Sarah Horsley, IUCN Media Relations Officer, t +41 22 999 0127 , m +41 79 528 3486 , e sarah.horsley@iucn.org
* Lynne Labanne, IUCN Species Programme, t +41 22 999 0153 , m +41 79 527 7221 , e lynne.labanne@iucn.org

About IUCN

IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges.

IUCN works on biodiversity, climate change, energy, human livelihoods and greening the world economy by supporting scientific research, managing field projects all over the world, and bringing governments, NGOs, the UN and companies together to develop policy, laws and best practice.

IUCN is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organization, with more than 1,000 government and NGO members and almost 11,000 volunteer experts in some 160 countries. IUCN’s work is supported by over 1,000 staff in 60 offices and hundreds of partners in public, NGO and private sectors around the world.

www.iucn.org

About The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (or The IUCN Red List) is the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of plant and animal species. It is based on an objective system for assessing the risk of extinction of a species should no conservation action be taken.

Species are assigned to one of eight categories of threat based on whether they meet criteria linked to population trend, population size and structure and geographic range. Species listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable are collectively described as ‘Threatened’.

The IUCN Red List is not just a register of names and associated threat categories. It is a rich compendium of information on the threats to the species, their ecological requirements, where they live, and information on conservation actions that can be used to reduce or prevent extinctions.

www.iucnredlist.org

About the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) and Species Programme

The Species Survival Commission (SSC) is the largest of IUCN’s six volunteer commissions with a global membership of 7,000 experts. SSC advises IUCN and its members on the wide range of technical and scientific aspects of species conservation and is dedicated to securing a future for biodiversity. SSC has significant input into the international agreements dealing with biodiversity conservation.

The IUCN Species Programme supports the activities of the IUCN Species Survival Commission and individual Specialist Groups, as well as implementing global species conservation initiatives. It is an integral part of the IUCN Secretariat and is managed from IUCN’s international headquarters in Gland, Switzerland. The Species Programme includes a number of technical units covering Species Trade and Use, the Red List Unit, Freshwater Biodiversity Assessments Unit, (all located in Cambridge, UK), and the Global Biodiversity Assessment Unit (located in Washington DC, USA).

www.iucn.org/ssc

Half Of All Species May Be Extinct In Our Lifetime (Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences-- 2008)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif., Oct. 21 (UPI) -- U.S. scientists say the Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals, with nearly 50 percent of all species disappearing.

Biologists at the University of California-Santa Barbara say they are working to determine which species must be saved.

"The current extinction
event is due to human activity, paving the planet, creating pollution, many of the things that we are doing today," said study co-author Assistant Professor Bradley Cardinale. "The Earth might well lose half of its species in our lifetime. We want to know which ones deserve the highest priority for conservation."

Cardinale said the last mass extinction near the current level, the Cretaceous Tertiary extinction, occurred about 65 million years ago when a meteor struck the Earth. It's best known for causing the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs, as well as numerous plant species.

"Given that we are losing species from ecosystems around the world, we need to know which species matter the most and which we should pour our resources into protecting," said first author Marc Cadotte.

Cadotte, Cardinale and co-author Associate Professor Todd Oakley report their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Half of mammals 'in decline', says extinction Red List

(AFP) – Oct 6, 2008

BARCELONA (AFP) — Half the world's mammals are declining in population and more than a third probably face extinction, said an update Monday of the "Red List," the most respected inventory of biodiversity.

A comprehensive survey of mammals included in the annual report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which covers more than 44,000 animal and plant species, shows that a quarter of the planet's 5,487 known mammals are clearly at risk of disappearing forever.

But the actual situation may be even grimmer because researchers have been unable to classify the threat level for another 836 mammals due to lack of data.

"In reality, the number of threatened mammals could be as high as 36 percent," said IUCN scientist Jan Schipper, lead author of the mammal survey, in remarks published separately in the US-based journal Science.

The most vulnerable groups are primates, our nearest relatives on the evolutionary ladder, and marine mammals, including several species of whales, dolphins and porpoises.

"Our results paint a bleak picture of the global status of mammals worldwide," said Schipper.

The revised Red List, unveiled at the IUCN's World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, is further evidence that Earth is undergoing the first wave of mass extinction since dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago, many experts say.

Over the last half-billion years, there have only been five other periods of mass extinction.

The Red List classifies plants and animals in one of half-a-dozen categories depending on their survival status.

Nearly 40 percent of 44,838 species catalogued are listed as "threatened" with extinction, with 3,000 of them classified as "critically endangered," meaning they face a very high probability of dying out.

There were a few slivers of good news showing that conservation efforts can prevent a species from slipping into the category from which there is no return: "extinct."

The black-footed Ferret, native to the United States, was moved from "Extinct in the Wild" to "Endangered" after it was successfully introduced into seven U.S. states and Mexico.

The European bison and the wild horse of Mongolia made similar comebacks from the brink starting in the early 1990s.

But these remain exceptions that highlight the need to act before other species populations dwindle beyond the threshold of viability, experts say.

"The longer we wait, the more expensive it will be to prevent future extinctions," said Jane Smart, the head of the IUCN's Species Programme. "We now know what species are threatened, what the threats are and where."

The window of opportunity for great apes and monkey appears to be closing far more quickly that scientists realised, the new study shows.

"I was blown away when I saw the results, even though I was deeply involved in the work," said Michael Hoffman, a mammal expert at Conservation International who helped compile the Red List.

"Nearly 80 percent of primates in Asia are threatened with extinction, overwhelmingly because of hunting and habitat loss."

A voracious appetite in China for traditional medicines and prestige foods is the main driver of primate loss in Southeast Asia, he said.

Sea mammals are also highly vulnerable. "The situation is particularly serious ... for marine species, victims of our increasingly intensive use of the oceans," said Schipper.

Mile-wide fishing nets, vessel strikes, toxic waste and sound pollution from military sonar kill up to 1,000 air-breathing, ocean-dwelling mammals every day, previous research has shown.

There are many drivers of species extinction and all of them stem either directly or indirectly from human activity, scientists say.

Overwhelmingly, the main threat is habitat loss, with hunting and pollution major factors as well.

But climate change is also emerging as a menace.

Species dependant on sea ice such as polar bears and harp seals, for example, are especially vulnerable to shrinking ice cover in the Arctic Circle.

Scientists are also alarmed by "catastrophic declines" in fresh-water amphibians and some mammals caused by poorly understood infections, said Schipper.

More than 60 percent of Tasmanian devils, for example, have been wiped out in the last decade by a disfiguring facial cancer that spreads through physical contact.

"Disease has always had a role to play in affecting populations, but now we are seeing diseases that are highly pathogenic," said Hoffman.

With 11,000 volunteer scientists and more than 1,000 paid staff, the IUCN runs thousands of field projects around the globe to monitor and help manage natural environments.

More than 8,000 ministers, UN officials, NGOs, scientists and business chiefs began brainstorming Sunday for 10 days in the Spanish city of Barcelona on how to brake this loss and steer the world onto a path of sustainable development.

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