Species At Risk Of Extinction Growing
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SPECIES FACE TOUGH FIGHT FOR SURVIVAL
By Alex Kirby
Monday, 7 October, 2002
A central Asian antelope, a camel and the Iberian lynx all face a high risk
of extinction, scientists say.
IUCN They are now classified by the International Union for the Conservation
of Nature (IUCN) as critically endangered.
Its updated Red List of Threatened Species says more than 11,000 creatures
now face extinction.
But two, an insect and a rodent, previously thought extinct, have been
Since the last edition of the list two years ago, over 400 new species have
Of these, 124 have joined one of the threatened categories: critically
endangered (CR), endangered (EN), or vulnerable (VU).
IUCN (also known as the World Conservation Union) says 11,167 species are
now threatened with extinction, 121 more than in 2000.
One of the three species causing IUCN particular concern is the saiga, an
antelope found in the deserts and steppes of central Asia.
It has suffered a major decline in the last decade, poached for both its
meat and its horns, which are exported for use in traditional medicine.
In 1993 the total population was estimated at over one million: by 2000 this
had fallen to fewer than 200,000. Scientists believe under 50,000 animals
now remain in the wild.
IUCN's director general, Achim Steiner, told BBC News Online: "This rate of
loss is unsustainable. If nothing is done, the saiga is doomed to extinction
in one or two decades."
Another species, the wild Bactrian camel, is hunted partly because it
competes with domestic camels and livestock for water and grazing, but also
Its main stronghold is China, where mining is destroying its habitat. Other
problems include the effects of hybridisation with domestic camels, and
increased human competition.
The plight of the third, the Iberian lynx, is dire: it may be the first wild
cat to become extinct for at least 2,000 years. Fewer than half the 1,200
individuals recorded 10 years ago now survive.
The lynx lives in Mediterranean woodland, where habitat fragmentation by
farming and industrial development means it now survives only in scattered
groups in south-west Spain and Portugal.
The two species rediscovered after being listed as extinct are the Lord Howe
Island stick insect, an Australian species, and the Bavarian pine vole, from
Other species of concern include:
- the Ethiopian water mouse (critically endangered), known from a single
specimen found near a tributary of the Blue Nile in north-west Ethiopia --
its habitat may be overgrazed by livestock
- the tiger tail seahorse (vulnerable) is caught for medicinal and aquarium
- the slender-billed and Indian vultures are both classified as critically
endangered because they have suffered extremely rapid population declines,
particularly in south Asia. Suspected causes include disease, poisoning,
pesticide use and changes in the processing of dead livestock.
IUCN has upgraded several species to a higher threat category, because it
now judges them more vulnerable.
They include three birds: the Titicaca flightless grebe, the black-browed
albatross, and the blue duck of New Zealand.
In 2000, 5,611 plants were assessed as threatened. With the addition of
Mexican and Brazilian cactus assessments, the figure is now 5,714.
But with only about 4% of the world's described plants evaluated, IUCN says,
the true percentage of threatened species is much higher.
The 2000 Red List said the extinction crisis was as bad as many people
feared, with some "dramatic" population declines.
Achim Steiner told BBC News Online: "This update reaffirms the basic trends
"It is a very serious situation indeed -- it's a severe warning that we have
no reason to say things are turning round.
"The resources we have to compile the list are absolutely inadequate. It is
people like birdwatchers and other nature lovers who generate an enormous
amount of data voluntarily that are the heart and soul of the conservation
"And there are the people in places like Africa who have no binoculars, but
use wildlife every day. We count on them too."
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