More Than One In Four Animals Threatened With Extinction, IUCN Red List Update Reveals

The Queen Alexandra's Birdwing, now listed as extinct. GR Photo/Shutterstock

The IUCN Red List has released an update to its Endangered Species List. Yes, more species have been listed as critically endangered and yes, more species have been declared extinct. But there is also a sliver of good news. Four species of toads believed to be extinct as a consequence of the chytridiomycosis fungi have been "rediscovered" in parts of Colombia and Ecuador. 

Back to the doom and gloom. The toll of extinct species now stands at 872, six more than last year. Sixty-nine species, including the black softshell turtle and the impressively beaked Alagoas curassow, are extinct in the wild, and another 5,664 are listed as Critically Endangered. In total, 28 percent (26,197) of the 93,577 assessed are considered threatened in some way. 


“Today’s IUCN Red List update reveals the onslaught of threats that our planet’s biodiversity is facing,” Inger Andersen, the IUCN Director General, said in a statement

“Invasive species, changes to fire patterns, cyclones and human-wildlife conflict are just some of the many threats wreaking havoc on our planet’s ecosystems.”

And while fluffy critters like the Sumatran tiger and the slightly bizarre looking blue-eyed lemur steal headlines and public sympathy, the vast majority of species threatened with extinction are insects, amphibians, and flora. Take Japanese earthworms as an example. Three of the 43 species endemic to Japan are currently threatened with extinction thanks to a deadly combination of urban expansion, agricultural intensification, and radioactive fallout from World War II and the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi reactor explosion. These, the IUCN Red List report points out, are important to maintain healthy soil and, like many insects, they provide an essential foundation for several food chains. In summary: if earthworms die out, we all suffer

The report also covered the threats facing Australia's reptile population, which contains 10 percent of the planet's reptile fauna. Seven percent of reptilian species in Australia are now threatened with extinction as a result of climate change and invasive species, including feral cats and the extremely toxic cane toad. Another major threat is wildfires, which – because of humans (and, intriguingly, birds of prey) – are increasing in intensity and frequency. 

A blue-eyed lemur, currently extinct in the wild. KARI K/Shutterstock

Other species the report highlighted include the world's largest butterfly, the Queen Alexandra's Birdwing endemic to New Guinea (which is still categorized as "Endangered") and a large rat-like rodent, the Jamaican Hutia (which has been moved to "Endangered"). The Precious Stream-toad (Ansonia smeagol), named after a certain fictional character, has been listed as "Vulnerable".  

This recent update "reinforces the theory that we are moving into a period when extinctions are taking place at a much higher pace than the natural background rate. We are endangering the life support systems of our planet and putting the future of our own species in jeopardy,” Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the IUCN Red List unit in Cambridge, told The Guardian.

“This is our window of opportunity to act.”