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IUCN Red List holds good and bad news

white rhinos.jpgPosted on behalf of Naomi Lubick.

Every year, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) updates its Red List, an ever-growing catalogue of the endangered species on the planet. The results usually make for depressing reading as scientists add more species to the three “hot” levels of “critically endangered,” “endangered” and “vulnerable.” Today’s update is both good and bad, according to the organization.

The IUCN evaluated nearly 62,000 species and determined that nearly 20,000 of them were threatened. The number of mammals marked “at risk” on the Red List held mostly steady — up 7 from 1,131 from last year. But that doesn’t mean the situation is not bad: of the 5,499 mammals on the books, best estimates show that around a quarter of them are in trouble.

Nonetheless, the IUCN says that its numbers show that conservation programmes can work, highlighting the success of some conservation efforts for Przewalski’s Horse, moved from critically endangered to endangered, and a subspecies of white rhinos (pictured), for example, that is now thriving in the wild. Nonetheless, the IUCN says rhinos in general are still in trouble: this year’s release notes the poaching of what was possibly the last member of a subspecies of Javan rhino in Vietnam last year.

And more and more species of reptiles, amphibians and birds have landed on the Red List in the past few years. Threatened reptiles in particular have jumped from 594 to 772 threatened, with only a third of the existing species evaluated.

But the list is peppered by phrases connoting a lack of data to judge the status of most species — for crustaceans, insects and other invertebrates, for example, the IUCN found “insufficient coverage” to determine whether these species, which number more than 1.3 million across the planet, are doing okay. Of all the invertebrates, only the horseshoe crabs are most certainly at risk, with 3 of the 4 existing species endangered, using the outer limits of the IUCN’s estimates of risk. The IUCN is working to fill in these gaps, to turn the Red List into a definitive “Barometer of Life” measuring the status of the world’s biodiversity.

Photo: Dr Richard Emslie and IUCN


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