"Extinction crisis mounting"



The Kihansi spray toad

Tanzania's Kihansi spray toad is one of many species of plants and animals to now be considered extinct in the wild.

Credit: Tim Herman

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An update of the most comprehensive resource on the conservation status of plant and animal species around the world, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, has shown 17,291 of the 47,677 assessed species are threatened with extinction.

The results of the latest Red List update have revealed 21 per cent of all known mammals, 30 per cent of all known amphibians and 12 per cent of all known birds assessed so far are under threat, as are a large 70 per cent of plants, 28 per cent of reptiles, 37 per cent of freshwater fishes, and 35 percent of invertebrates.

"The scientific evidence of a serious extinction crisis is mounting," said Jane Smart, Director of IUCN's Biodiversity Conservation Group, adding that global targets to reduce biodiversity loss by 2010 will simply not be met.

"It's time for governments to start getting serious about saving species and make sure it's high on their agendas for next year [the International Year of Biodiversity], as we're rapidly running out of time."

Of the world's 5,490 mammals, 79 are classified as extinct or extinct in the wild, with 188 critically endangered, 449 endangered and 505 listed as vulnerable.

This year has seen the eastern voalavo (Voalavo antsahabensis) rodent added to the list for the first time, in the endangered category. Endemic to Madagascar, the voalavo is confined to tropical forest areas and is under increasing threat from slash-and-burn farming.

"The world's reptiles are [also] undoubtedly suffering," said Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN's Species Survival Commission, with the list also seeing the addition of 156 new species of lizard, all endemic to the Philippines and at risk due to habitat loss from farming and logging, as well the fact some are hunted by humans for food.

The IUCN Red List also shows that 1,895 of the planet's 6,285 amphibians are in danger of extinction, making them the most threatened group of species known to date. The Kihansi spray toad (Nectophrynoides asperginis), for example, has moved from being critically endangered to extinct in the wild.

The species was known to be found only in the Kihansi Falls in Tanzania, where it was formerly abundant with a population of at least 17,000. Its decline has been due to the construction of a dam upstream of the Kihansi Falls that removed 90 per cent of the original water flow to the gorge, and it is thought a fungal disease was probably responsible for the toad's final population crash.

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