Almost a quarter of all mammals face extinction, according to the 2008 IUCN Red List, published today. 1,141 of the 5,487 known mammals are now under threat. The figures were revealed today in the latest report from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, who's Red List has become the industry Bible for conservationists. A formidable piece of work, the report is compiled by over 1,800 scientists, and includes every known mammal, bird and amphibian. It will eventually include reptiles, fish, and plants. The list includes almost 45,000 species, each classified according to risk (Least Concern, Near Threatened, Vulnerable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, Extinct in the Wild, and Extinct), noting any movement across the spectrum, and adding newly threatened species.
Conservationists will find some good news this year, with 40 different species improving this year. The African elephant is the most high profile, moving from ‘vulnerable' to ‘near threatened'. Mongolia's wild horses, extinct in the wild in 1996, are now considered critically endangered - still at risk, but moving in the right direction. The La Palma lizard was believed to be extinct, but was re-discovered last year.
183 species moved the other way. Among the less lucky species are the Iberian Lynx , which is now critically endangered, with between 84 and 143 adults remaining. The Chinese Pere David deer is now extinct in the wild, its last hope of survival resting on captive pairs. While the total proportion of endangered species has dropped in this year's Red List, this is largely due to the number of species added for the first time. Overall, the trend is downwards, with 32% of amphibians, 17% of sharks and rays and 14% of birds now under threat.
Habitat loss and degradation remain the most important threats to mammals, with deforestation for agriculture the highest priority, but not all the animals on the list are endangered because of human activity. Tasmanian devil populations have been in serious decline for a decade due to cancer, and the animal is now endangered. The Red List highlights the extreme threat facing our biodiversity. An extinction crisis is not theoretical, it is in progress and must be halted. The good news is that it can be halted, with concerted action.
The Red List shows 37 mammals and 16 birds moved out of danger through conservation efforts - a fraction of the total, but proof that species can be saved. It isn't too late to avert a mass extinction event, and the Red List remains a crucial touchstone in conservation action around the world.
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