IUCN Red List Update: 28,338 Species Are Now Threatened With Extinction


Rachel Baxter

Copy Editor & Staff Writer

The roloway monkey (Cercopithecus roloway) is now listed as Critically Endangered. © Russel A. Mittermeier 

For the first time, the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species has surpassed the 100,000 species mark. Over 9,000 newly assessed species have been added to the list, bringing the total to 105,732. Of those, 28,338 species are threatened with extinction, that's a third of all those assessed. 

Since 1964, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has been assessing the conservation statuses of the world’s creatures. The Red List provides the most comprehensive look at the state of the planet’s species to date.


One group faring particularly badly is freshwater fishes. According to the IUCN, half of all freshwater fish species endemic to Japan are now threatened with extinction, as are a third of those in Mexico. The culprits include agricultural and urban pollution, loss of free-flowing rivers, dams, weirs, fishing, and invasive species.

“To halt these declines, we urgently need policies on the human use of freshwaters that allow for the needs of the many other species sharing these ecosystems,” said William Darwall, Head of the IUCN Freshwater Biodiversity Unit.

Sadly, our oceans’ inhabitants are dwindling too. Rhino rays, a group that encompasses both wedgefishes and guitarfishes, are now the “most imperiled marine fish families in the world.” Of the 16 species assessed, 15 are now listed as Critically Endangered. This means they have a very high risk of going extinct in the wild. The false shark ray, found in Mauritania's waters, is on the edge of extinction; its numbers have drastically fallen by over 80 percent in just 45 years.

The whitespotted wedgefish is critically endangered. © Matthew D. Pottenski

The cause of the rhino rays’ plight is fishing; they suffer at the hands of unregulated coastal fishing and often end up as bycatch. Although they aren’t technically sharks (but closely related), they are also targeted for their fins which fetch a high price when sold for use in shark fin soup, a traditional Asian delicacy that’s decimating the world’s sharks.


“To prevent losing these ray families, it is critical that governments immediately establish and enforce species protections, bycatch mitigation programs, marine protected areas, and international trade controls,” said Colin Simpfendorfer, Co-Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Shark Specialist Group.  

In addition to these coastal species, 500 deep-sea bony fishes have been added to the list. Facing deep-sea fishing, seabed mining, and the oil and gas industries, deep-sea fishes are being pushed towards extinction. They can be found over 1,000 meters (3,200 feet) down, making them incredibly difficult to study and monitor. They often live beyond national jurisdictions, which impedes their protection.

The scaly-foot snail, a deep-sea mollusk that lives on hydrothermal vents is threatened by deep-sea mining. © Chong Chen

Back on land, habitat destruction and demand for bushmeat have forced seven primate species closer to the brink, six of which live in West Africa. The IUCN notes that as many as 40 percent of primates in West and Central Africa are now threatened with extinction. One of these is the roloway monkey, targeted for meat in its home countries of Ghana and the Côte d’Ivoire, which is now listed as Critically Endangered.

Sclater's monkey, found in southern Nigeria, has declined by 50 percent in the last 27 years. It is now classed as Endangered. © Lynne R. Baker

Over 5,000 trees from 180 countries and 79 fungi species have also been added to the list. At least 15 fungi native to Europe’s countryside, like the vibrant red splendid waxcap, are now under threat.     


“With more than 100,000 species now assessed for the IUCN Red List, this update clearly shows how much humans around the world are overexploiting wildlife,” said IUCN Acting Director General, Dr Grethel Aguilar. “We must wake up to the fact that conserving nature’s diversity is in our interest, and is absolutely fundamental to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. States, businesses and civil society must urgently act to halt the overexploitation of nature, and must respect and support local communities and Indigenous Peoples in strengthening sustainable livelihoods.”