"Lo, though nature red in tooth and claw..."

-Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1850

Endangered Species Report for 2008

Posted by MaryEllen On 6:15 PM

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) is the international scientific body that tracks the statistics relating to endangered species. At the end of each year, the IUCN compiles all the data for that year and compiles the “Red List”, a listing of endangered and critically endangered animals. The list also contains comparisons to prior years, so that the progress of each animal can be traced over time. In order to create the list, they do ongoing studies of each animal that they are evaluating and determine the overall population, how much that population has increased or declined, and what the ‘normal’ populations of the animal should be. Based on these statistics, they assign each animal a category. The categories are: Extinct, Extinct in the Wild, Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, Lesser Risk Conservation Dependent, Near Threatened, and Least Concern. Of these categories, an animal in the Extinct in the Wild, Critically Endangered, and Endangered groups is considered ‘threatened’.

So in 2008, how have we done in preserving our threatened species and preventing others from moving into threatened status? Sadly, we have not done well at all. Better than other years, maybe, but overall our efforts to protect endangered species continues to fall woefully short.

There was some good news in 2008. Thirty-six endangered mammals increased their numbers and moved down a category. The re-introduction of the black-footed ferret, formerly extinct in the wild, was declared successful, moving it from Extinct in Wild to Endangered status. The wild horse, as well, moved from the Extinct in Wild to the Critically Endangered group. Several species of whale moved from Lesser Risk/conservation dependent to Least Concern; seven species of bat left the threatened list and moved into the Nearly Threatened or Least Concern groups. The Indian Rhino made it from Endangered to Vulnerable, and the African Elephant made it from Vulnerable to Nearly Threatened.

Thirty-six mammals sounds like a good number – until you realize that 143 mammals showed a decline in numbers sufficient to move them up a category. Seven bat species left the threatened list… but 21 joined it, with three more upgraded from Vulnerable to Endangered. The Indian Rhino was downgraded, but it was too late for the Western Black Rhino, the Javan Rhino, and the Sumatran Rhino, all considered Extinct in the Wild. Eleven monkeys moved to threatened status, in addition to another three that moved from Vulnerable to Endangered. Twelve squirrels also joined the threatened list. A total of sixteen mammals were upgraded to Critically Endangered level, including the Woylie (a type of bettong), which made a leap from Least Concern to Critically Endangered in one year.

Birds fared worse. Only two species showed any improvement, and 23 moved up on the list, six of them moving from Endangered to Critical. Reptiles had no improvement at all, and four tortoises, a turtle, and a crocodile moved into the Critical category. Information on amphibians is not yet finalized, due to difficulties with the statistics from South America.

So, what can we do? There are countless ways that every one of us can help. We can all try to live a little more lightly on the earth, consume a little bit less resources, to help prevent habitat loss, one of the main causes of extinction. We can donate time or money to organizations working to help, such as the World Wildlife Fund or the Nature Conservancy. We can do our best to educate our friends and family about conservation issues. We can be careful where and how we go on vacation, to limit our impact on potentially fragile environments. And we can keep an eye on our own backyards – make them wildlife friendly, if possible, or at least make them as close to the natural environment in your area as possible. And be kind to the little guys, as well – insects and worms deserve their place in the world, too.

Most of all, do not give up. The 38 species that gained some ground may not sound like much, but for those 38 species, the world has gotten a little better, a little friendlier, a little safer. And that, after all, is the goal we all strive for, for ourselves and for our animal brethren. So Happy Endangered Species Day to you, and while you are celebrating, raise a glass to yourself and all the people like you, who helped to bring a happier 2008 to the Wolverine, Black-footed Ferret, Juan Fernández Fur Seal, Guadalupe Fur Seal, Bowhead Whale, Southern Right Whale, Humpback Whale, European Bison, Spanish Ibex, Walia Ibex, Przewalski's Gazelle, Pyrenean Chamoix, Gray Whale, Ryukyu Flying Fox, Pohnpei Flying Fox, Samoan Flying Fox, Rafinesque's Big-eared Bat, Townsend's Big-eared Bat, Geoffroy's Bat, Gray Myotis, Western Quoll, Lumholtz's Tree Kangaroo, Western Brush Wallaby, Burrowing Bettong, Daintree River Ringtail Possum, Herbert River Ringtail Possum, Wild Horse, Mountain Zebra, Indian Rhinoceros, Black Lion Tamarin, African Elephant, Eurasian Beaver, Greater Stick-nest Rat, Shark Bay Mouse, Western Mouse, Speckled Ground Squirrel, Washington Ground Squirrel, Little Spotted Kiwi, and Marquesan Imperial Pigeon.

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