Thousands of species are at serious risk of being driven to extinction, according to the latest annual Red List of Threatened Species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). You won’t be surprised to learn that the main cause of these animals and plants being snuffed out is us, with expanding agriculture, fishing, and climate change as the top culprits.
The latest list looked at the status of 91,523 species in total, and found that 11,783 are vulnerable, 8,455 are endangered, and 5,583 are considered critically endangered. The report was presented by Craig Hilton-Taylor, who leads the team that conducts the IUCN assessment in Tokyo. They offset the overall gloom with a rare positive example of a species being saved from extinction, as two species of kiwi have now been downgraded.
Some of the species mentioned on the list are two species of Asian cetacean, the Irrawaddy dolphin and the finless porpoise, with both moving from the vulnerable to endangered category. Both species live close to shore and within river systems, meaning that while they are not actively hunted, they frequently fall victim to being trapped and drowned in gillnets. This has caused their populations to crash over the past few decades.
“Gillnets hang like curtains of death across rivers and trap everything that comes into contact with them,” said Hilton-Taylor during the announcement to The Guardian. In fact, it is now thought that gillnets are the greatest threat to the survival of whales and dolphins worldwide. The baiji dolphin is now likely extinct due to the use of gillnets for fishing in the Yangtze River, while the vaquita porpoise in the Gulf of California is rapidly heading in a similar direction.
For the first time ever for many species, the team were able to assess the status of 95 wild crops. Worryingly, three species of rice, two wild wheat, and 17 wild yam species are at risk from expanding agriculture and habitat destruction. As climate change kicks in, preserving these wild species will be more critical than ever.
Yet thankfully, it is not all bad news. The IUCN highlight the momentous efforts being taken by New Zealand to bring two species of kiwi back from the precipice of extinction. Both the Okarito kiwi and the northern brown kiwi have been downgraded from endangered to vulnerable, after intensive predator control on offshore islands have helped boost their numbers.
Back in 1995, there were thought to be only 160 Okarito kiwi alive, but this number has now been boosted to up to 450 adults, while the northern brown kiwi populations are thought to be growing by over 2 percent a year. This, the organization says, goes to show exactly how conservation can and does work.