More species near extinction, says conservation group

After assessment, conservation union's research shows that 21,000 are at risk of dying out

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 July, 2013, 3:19am


A freshwater shrimp, an island-dwelling lizard and a pupfish from Arizona have been declared extinct, while nearly 21,000 species are at risk of dying out, an updated "red list" released yesterday showed.

"The overall picture is alarming," said Jane Smart of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which is behind the red list of threatened species that to date has assessed 70,294 of the world's 1.82 million known species of plants and animals.

Smart, who heads IUCN's biodiversity conservation union, insisted urgent and more efficient action was needed "if we are serious about stopping the extinction crisis that continues to threaten all life on earth".

According to the update, 20,934 species are "threatened with extinction", compared with 20,219 in October.

Craig Hilton-Taylor, manager of IUCN's Red List, said the rise of more than 700 species in this category was explained by increased pressure on a number of them. It was also due to species moving down from the more serious "endangered" category, as well as new species being added to the assessment list.

Yesterday's updated list focused especially on the decline among conifers, a category of cone-bearing trees and shrubs that includes the world's oldest and largest organisms, such as the bristlecone pine that can live to be almost 5,000 years old and the coast redwood, which can grow to a height of 110 metres.

The report, which provided the first global reassessment of conifers since 1998, showed that a full 34 per cent of the world's cedars, cypresses, firs and other such plants are threatened with extinction - compared with 30 per cent 15 years ago.

Yesterday's report was also the first global assessment of freshwater shrimps, showing 28 per cent of the carideans vital to freshwater ecosystems are threatened with extinction.

The Cape Verde giant skink, a lizard that had lived on a single island and two small islets and which was last seen in 1912, was also declared extinct, as was the Santa Cruz pupfish, once found in the Santa Cruz River basin in Arizona, which disappeared due to water depletion.

Hilton-Taylor said it varied greatly how quickly a species could be declared extinct, pointing out that the Cape Verde giant skink was believed to have been driven into extinction 100 years ago.

The Santa Cruz pupfish had not been seen in the wild since the 1960s, he said, voicing hope though that "it may still be in some hobbyist collection".

Additional reporting by Reuters