2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species reveals 15,589 species at risk of extinction

November 17, 2004

November 17, 2004 (Bangkok, Thailand) - The world's biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate, according to the 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and a companion study of the data, the Global Species Assessment (GSA).

The GSA is the most comprehensive evaluation ever undertaken of the status of the world's biodiversity. Its findings include the following:The Red List and the GSA were unveiled today at the opening of the 3rd IUCN World Conservation Congress. Halting the growing extinction crisis will be a major focus of the 3,500 delegates attending the world's largest conservation gathering.

"This sobering new report should serve as a wake-up call to take immediate action to prevent further species loss," says Russell A. Mittermeier, president of Conservation International and chairman of the IUCN Species Survival Commission's Primate Specialist Group. "It is not too late to act. But we cannot assume that any conservation activities will automatically prevent extinctions. We need better-funded efforts focused specifically on those animals and plants on the brink of extinction, and on those areas where such species are concentrated."

Much of the increase in the number of threatened species appearing on this year's Red List is due to the inclusion, for the first time, of complete assessments of all the world's amphibians, thanks to the Global Amphibian Assessment completed in September. This year also marks the debut of the Red List Index, a new tool for measuring trends in extinction risk. Red List Indices are currently available for birds and amphibians, and show that their status has declined steadily since the 1980s. The situation in freshwater habitats is less well known than for terrestrial habitats, but early signs show it is equally serious. Amphibians, which rely on freshwater, are considered to be outstanding indicators of ecosystem health; therefore their catastrophic decline serves notice about the state of the planet's water resources.

The marine environment is also not as well known as the terrestrial environment, but many marine species are being over-exploited to the point of extinction.

"Although 15,589 species are known to be threatened with extinction, this greatly underestimates the true number, as only a fraction of known species have been assessed. There is still much to be discovered about key species-rich habitats, such as tropical forests, marine and freshwater systems, or particular groups, such as invertebrates, plants and fungi, which make up the majority of biodiversity," says Craig Hilton-Taylor, IUCN's Red List Programme Officer.




Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus) is a large, coral reef fish occurring from Bermuda and Florida throughout the Bahamas and Caribbean Sea. The species is fished both commercially and recreationally, with much of the catch coming from spawning aggregations. The global population of Nassau grouper has declined by approximately 60% over the last 30 years and the species is listed as Endangered. Photo © John E. Randall.

Full size image available through contact


People, either directly or indirectly, are the main reason for most species' declines. Habitat destruction and degradation are the leading threats, but other significant pressures include over-exploitation (for food, pets, and medicine), introduced species, pollution, and disease. Climate change is increasingly recognized as a serious threat.

The GSA shows that threatened species are often concentrated in densely populated areas, particularly in much of Asia (for example, in the Western Ghats of India and the island of Java in Indonesia) and parts of Africa (such as the Albertine Rift and the Ethiopian Highlands). A major conservation challenge will therefore be to reconcile the demands of large numbers of people on the environment, while protecting the biodiversity upon which so many people's livelihoods depend.

The importance of international support in safeguarding biodiversity is highlighted by the fact that many countries with a high concentration of threatened species have a low Gross National Income (GNI) per capita (for example, Brazil, Columbia, Cameroon, China, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, and the Philippines) and are unable to implement the required conservation measures without international assistance.

Despite the ominous outlook and the many gaps in knowledge, the GSA points out that species can (and many have) been saved from extinction, although the majority of threatened species require much more action to improve their status. In this sense, the IUCN Red List can serve as an effective tool to guide conservation practitioners with conservation planning and priority setting.

"It is clear that the situation facing our species is serious and getting worse. We must refocus and rethink the way in which society must respond to this global threat," says Achim Steiner, IUCN's Director General. "While most threats to biodiversity are human-driven, human actions alone can prevent many species from becoming extinct."

The GSA and Red List are produced by a consortium of the IUCN-The World Conservation Union and its Species Survival Commission; Conservation International and its Center for Applied Biodiversity Science; BirdLife International, and NatureServe.
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Conservation International

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