Endangered species on the rise: report

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 May, 2006, 12:00am

Two out of every five species assessed by scientists are threatened with extinction, according to the 2006 World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

The list acts as a global wake-up call by focusing attention on the alarming state of the natural environment.

Of the 40,177 species assessed, 16,199 animal and plant species are now listed as threatened with extinction, including one in three amphibians and a quarter of the world's coniferous trees, in addition to the one in eight birds and one in four mammals.

The ranks known to be in jeopardy are joined by familiar species like the polar bear, hippopotamus and desert gazelles, together with ocean sharks, freshwater fish and Mediterranean flowers.

'The 2006 IUCN Red List shows a clear trend: biodiversity loss is increasing, not slowing down,' warned Achim Steiner, director-general of the IUCN.

'The implications of this trend for the productivity and resilience of ecosystems and the livelihoods of billions of people who depend on them are far-reaching ... Biodiversity cannot be saved by environmentalists alone - it must become the responsibility of everyone with the power and resources to act.'

Polar bears are about to become one of the most notable casualties of global warming. The impact of climate change is increasingly felt in the polar regions where summer sea ice is expected to decrease by 50 to 100 per cent over the next 50 to 100 years.

Dependent upon Arctic ice floes for hunting seals and highly specialised for life in the Arctic marine environment, polar bear numbers are expected to see a more than 30 per cent reduction over the next 45 years.

Sharks and rays are also highlighted in the list. Of the 547 species, 20 per cent are threatened with extinction. This confirms suspicions that these mainly slow-growing species have been over-fished and are disappearing at an unprecedented rate across the globe.

Despite the bad news, Mr Steiner stressed there is plenty of evidence to suggest that conservation works.

For example, following large recoveries in Europe, the numbers of white-tailed eagles doubled in the 1990s and the bird has been downgraded from 'Near Threatened' to 'Least Concern' on the

Red List.