Mzansi Afrika

From Johannesburg South Africa, a window on the world

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Red List 2004

One of the world's largest conservation conferences, organised by the World Conservation Union - the IUCN - opened today in Bangkok in Thailand. More than 5,000 scientists, activists and government representatives are expected to attend the nine-day conference. The gathering has been designed to highlight the growing threat to wildlife caused by rapid human development in most parts of the world.

"From the mighty shark to the humble frog, the world’s biodiversity is declining at unprecedented rates. Halting the growing extinction crisis will be a major concern for IUCN’s 1,000 plus member organisations attending the 3rd IUCN World Conservation Congress" (More)

The IUCN has released their annual Red List at the confernce, a survey of animal species and plantlife that are under threat:

A total of 15,589 species face extinction.

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.

With amphibians relying on freshwater, their catastrophic decline is a warning about the state of the planet’s water resources. Even though the situation in freshwater habitats is less well known than for terrestrial, early signs show it is equally serious. More than half (53%) of Madagascar’s freshwater fish are threatened with extinction.

The vast ocean depths are providing little refuge to many marine species which are being over-exploited to the point of extinction. Nearly one in five (18%) of assessed sharks and rays are threatened.

Many plants have also been assessed, but only conifers and cycads have been completely evaluated with 25% and 52% threatened respectively.

Although 15,589 species are known to be threatened with extinction, this greatly underestimates the true number as only a fraction of known species have been assessed. There is still much to be discovered about key species-rich habitats, such as tropical forests, marine and freshwater systems or particular groups, such as invertebrates, plants and fungi, which make up the majority of biodiversity.

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.

The world’s list of extinctions increases – from 766 in 2000 to 784 documented extinctions since 1500 AD.

Although estimates vary greatly, current extinction rates are at least one hundred to a thousand times higher than background, or "natural" rates".

Over the past 20 years, 27 documented extinctions or extinctions in the wild have occurred but this underestimates the true number that have taken place.

While the vast majority of extinctions since 1500 AD have occurred on oceanic islands, over the last 20 years, continental extinctions have become as common as island extinctions.

Humans have been the main cause of extinction and continue to be the principle threat to species at risk of extinction.

Habitat loss, introduced species, and over-exploitation are the main threats, with human-induced climate change becoming an increasingly significant problem.


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