New Research Shows World�s Mammals Face Growing Extinction Threat

10/6/2008


Barcelona, Spain � Tropical deforestation, over-hunting and other environmental crises are wiping out the world�s mammals at an unprecedented rate, according to new research published by Science Magazine.

The most comprehensive assessment to date of mammals � from the blue whale to the bumblebee bat � confirmed that more than 20 percent of all species are threatened with extinction, with additional data required to ascertain the status of hundreds of others.

If the trends of habitat destruction and other threats continue unabated, the added stress from global warming means a loss of life that will affect everyone and everything. Climate change already is having an impact on sea-ice dependent mammals including the polar bear (Ursus maritimus) and Harp seal (Pagophilus groenlandicus).

�This research shows that mammals everywhere are disappearing, which is a cause of great concern,� said Russell A. Mittermeier, the president of Conservation International (CI), one of the leading partners in compiling the data. �Imagine if we faced a 20 percent decrease in rainfall and other natural processes, or if a fifth of the world�s people vanished? That is what is happening to mammals, and it portends serious impacts for human societies.�

The new study found that 1,141 of the world�s 5,487 known mammal species were classified as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Another 836 species lacked sufficient data for classification, meaning that the percentage of threatened species on the Red List could approach a third of the total.

At the same time, 5 percent of mammal species listed as threatened showed signs of recovery in the wild, highlighting the effectiveness of properly targeted and funded conservation efforts.

�We need more conservation action backed by research to improve the data for evaluating the threats faced by mammals, and we also must investigate means to aid the recovery of threatened species and populations,� said Jan Schipper, a CI researcher who is lead author of the paper published in Science.

The study showed that 188 mammals are in the highest threat category of Critically Endangered, including the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus), which has a population of less than 150 adults and continues to decline due to a shortage of its primary prey, the European rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). In North Africa, two species of antelope, the addax (Addax nasomaculatus) and the Dama gazelle (Nanger dama) are both on the verge of extinction, with fewer than 250 individuals of either species thought to remain in the wild, largely due to uncontrolled hunting and overgrazing from livestock.

Nearly 450 mammals are listed as Endangered, including the Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii) because of an infectious facial cancer that has decimated more than 60 percent of its global population in the last 10 years. Loss of wetland habitat imperils the fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) of Southeast Asia, while unsustainable hunting and habitat degradation have reduced the Caspian seal (Pusa caspica) population by 90 percent in the past century.

Habitat loss and degradation affect 40 percent of the world�s mammals, while over-harvesting is wiping out larger mammals, especially in Southeast Asia and parts of Africa and South America.

Some species can recover. The black-footed ferret (Mustela nigripes) was extinct in the wild, but now has been downgraded to Endangered after a successful reintroduction by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service into eight western states and Mexico from 1991-2008. Similarly, the wild horse (Equus ferus) also went from extinct in the wild in 1996 to Critically Endangered in 2008 due to successful reintroduction in Mongolia.

The African elephant (Loxodonta africana) is no longer considered under immediate threat, reflecting population increases in Southern and Eastern Africa that are greater than decreases elsewhere.

Assessing the world�s mammals involved more than 1,800 scientists from over 130 countries. The collaboration included CI, Sapienza Universit� di Roma, Arizona State University, Texas A&M University, University of Virginia, the Zoological Society of London, and the IUCN Species Survival Commission. The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund provided funding.

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Conservation International (CI) applies innovations in science, economics, policy and community participation to protect the Earth�s richest regions of plant and animal diversity and demonstrate that human societies can live harmoniously with nature. Founded in 1987, CI works in more than 40 countries on four continents to help people find economic alternatives without harming their natural environments. For more information about CI, visit www.conservation.org.

The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund is a joint initiative of Conservation International, l�Agence Fran�aise de D�veloppement, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan, the MacArthur Foundation and the World Bank. A fundamental goal is to ensure civil society is engaged in biodiversity conservation.

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