Thousands of animal species are at critical risk of going extinct due to unsustainable farming and fishing methods and climate change, a conservation group has warned as it released the latest red list of endangered species.
In a rare piece of good news, the International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN] praised New Zealand for its success in turning around the fortunes of two species of kiwi, prompting it to upgrade them from endangered to vulnerable.
The struggle for survival among at-risk animals – and now crops – has intensified as a result of rising human populations, economic development and drastic changes in the natural environment caused by global warming, the IUCN said.
Craig Hilton-Taylor, who heads the group’s red list unit, said species were going extinct at a faster rate than at any time in human history.
But he drew encouragement from New Zealand’s example. “It’s all a rather sad picture, but the red list also gives us hope and shows us that conservation can work,” he told reporters at the list’s publication in Tokyo.
The IUCN aims to cover 160,000 species by the end of the decade, he added.
The group, which received funding for this year’s list from the Japanese automaker Toyota, assessed the status of 91,523 species, of which 25,821 are threatened, 866 are extinct and 69 extinct in the wild. It said 11,783 species are vulnerable, 8,455 are endangered and 5,583 critically endangered.
Among the most prominent species now regarded as endangered are the Irrawaddy dolphin and finless porpoise found in parts of southeast Asia.
The group blamed their plight on human activity, including the use of fishing nets. “Gillnets hang like curtains of death across rivers and trap everything that comes into contact with them,” said Hilton-Taylor.
In addition, Australia’s western ringtail possum slipped from vulnerable to critically endangered after its population plunged by 80% over the past decade.
Once widespread in the peppermint and eucalyptus forests of Western Australia, the animal can now be found only in a few fragmented habitats and is prone to heat stress at temperatures above 35C (95F) – an increasingly common phenomenon in that part of the country.
The IUCN said three reptile species on Christmas Island, an Australian territory just south of Indonesia, had gone extinct in the wild: the whiptail-skink, the blue-tailed skink and Lister’s gecko.
“We’re not 100% sure of the cause but it is almost certainly linked to the presence of invasive species” such as the yellow crazy ant, Hilton-Taylor said.
The Okarito kiwi and the northern brown kiwi, however, have mounted a modest recovery thanks to conservation work and a campaign to control predators such as rats, stoats and possums.
More than 40 species of New Zealand birds have already died out and many others remain threatened, including the kiwi.
The example of the Okarito and northern brown kiwi showed “conservation can and does work,” Hilton-Taylor said, adding that the population of the former has risen from 160 in 1995 to about 400-450 now.
“Government agencies and community groups in New Zealand came together and really turned things around,” he said.
Three species of wild rice, along with two of wild wheat and 17 types of wild yam were listed as threatened due to deforestation and urban expansion, coupled with the pressures created by intensive agriculture.
“The importance of food security unites the entire Asian continent,” said Naohisa Okuda, director of the biodiversity policy division at Japan’s environment ministry.
“We should be very concerned about the survival of these crops, because their loss could jeopardize the bowls of rice we eat in the future.”