Nov 19

The latest update to The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species highlights the loss of sea ice habitat due to climate warming as the single most important threat to the long-term survival of the polar bear.

The update also highlights habitat degradation as a main threat to many fungus species and over-fishing as the key driver of decline in marine bony fish. 

Polar bears on thin ice

The report, which is the most comprehensive assessment of sea ice and polar bear sub-population data to date, revealed that there is a high probability that the global polar bear population will decline by more than 30% over the next 35 to 40 years.

Based on the latest, most robust science, this assessment provides evidence that climate change will continue to seriously threaten polar bear survival in the future,” says Inger Andersen, IUCN Director General. “Climate change impacts go far beyond this iconic species, and present a threat our planet has never faced before. Governments meeting at the climate summit in Paris later this month will need to go all out to strike a deal strong enough to confront this unprecedented challenge.”

Recent studies show that the loss of Arctic sea ice has progressed faster than most climate models had predicted, with September sea ice extent declining at a linear rate of 14% per decade from 1979 through 2011. As polar bears rely on sea ice to access their prey, such as seals, an annual ice-free period of five months or more will cause extended fasting for the species, which is likely to lead to increased reproductive failure and starvation in some areas.

Polar bears are important to the livelihoods of Indigenous Peoples and, as apex predators, are essential to maintaining ecosystem balance in the Arctic region. Along with sea ice loss, other potential threats to the species include pollution, resource exploration and habitat change due to development. Oil development in the Arctic poses a wide range of threats, from oil spills to increased human-bear interaction.

Number of fungi on The IUCN Red List doubles

Twenty-nine species of fungi have been added to The IUCN Red List in this latest update, more than doubling current numbers. Fungi are an enormous group of organisms that are neither plants nor animals. They obtain nutrients through the absorption of decaying organic matter, recycling plant and animal waste into useful products.  The main threats affecting the species are habitat loss and degradation, mostly from changing land use practices.

Fungi are extremely important to humans as medicine and food and their conservation is vital for the health of the world’s ecosystems. Fungi have a symbiotic relationship with 80% of all plants and form a crucial part of the digestive system of ruminants such as sheep and cows.

Logging of the redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) which is listed as Endangered, is major threat to the fungus Leptonia carnea which has now been listed as Vulnerable.

Marine bony fishes at risk of extinction in the East Central Atlantic and Greater Caribbean regions

The latest global assessment of the 1,400 marine bony fishes of the Eastern Central Atlantic – covering the area from Mauritania to Angola – shows that 3% are threatened with extinction. In the Caribbean, 1,340 species were assessed, and of these 5% are threatened with extinction, including the golden tilefish (Lopholatilus chamaeleonticeps) which is listed as Endangered.

The lionfish, which is an invasive species, is placing further pressure on marine bony fishes in the Caribbean.

The degradation of sensitive coastal habitats, pollution, overexploitation and destructive fishing practices are putting many species of marine bony fishes at risk of extinction.

Marine bony fishes are both ecologically and economically important, with the loss of these species posing a serious threat to food security and livelihoods of more than 340 million people in the regions assessed. The data from this latest assessment will be used to guide fisheries management and conservation priorities in the regions.

The IUCN Red List now includes 79,837 assessed species, of which 23,250 are threatened with extinction.

For more on the latest update visit The IUCN Red List website.

Learn more about climate change and ocean acidification on Arkive.

Jul 25

Birdlife’s recent assessment of 350 newly recognised bird species, on behalf of the IUCN Red List, has found that 25 percent of these species are at risk of extinction. Around 13 percent of all known bird species are considered to be at risk, showing that the conservation of these newly recognised species needs to be prioritised.

This recent study focussed on non-passerine birds, such as birds of prey, owls, seabirds and waterbirds. There are 4,472 non-passerine birds known to science, of which 361 were found to be distinct species during this recent assessment. The identification of these new non-passerines shows that previous species counts have underestimated the true diversity of this avian group by around 10 percent.

Just a few Bugun liocichla breeding pairs have been found in eastern India and the species has been reclassified as Critically Endangered

One finding of the study was that an ostrich subspecies, the Somali ostrich, is in fact a distinct species and has now been classified as Vulnerable. Andy Symes, BirdLife’s Global Species Officer, said, “This species highlights both the need for improved knowledge of the world’s birds and the need for conservation action in some of the most challenging parts of the globe.” It is hoped that the early recognition of these threatened species will provoke action to ensure their future survival.

Despite the recovery of the lammergeier in Europe, the species is declining globally and has been upgraded from Least Concern to Near Threatened

Various species have also been reassessed to determine whether their Red List classification is currently correct. The population size of many species has dramatically decreased, leading to reclassification. In some species, such as the lammergeier, it was found that the population is becoming larger in certain areas but is declining in others.

The newly recognised Javan blue-banded kingfisher has entered the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered

The importance of bird hotspots was also highlighted during the assessment, especially those that are home to many endemic species. These habitats, along with the bird species that live within them, are in desperate need of conservation action to ensure their future survival. Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s Head of Science, said, “The IUCN Red List is crucial not only for helping to identify those species needing targeted recovery efforts, but also for focussing the conservation agenda by identifying the key sites and habitats that need to be saved, including Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas.

Read more on this story at IUCN – One tenth of bird species flying under the conservation radar.

Check out Arkive’s top 50 bird species.

Hannah Mulvany, Arkive Content and Outreach Officer

Feb 1
Semirechensk salamander (<em>Ranodon sibiricus</em>)

Semirechensk salamander (Ranodon sibiricus)

Species: Semirechensk salamander (Ranodon sibiricus)

Status: Endangered (EN)

Interesting Fact: The Semirechensk salamander is aquatic during the breeding season but terrestrial for the remainder of the year.

More information:

The Semirechensk salamander is greenish-orange on its upperparts, sometimes with a pattern of dark spots, and pale pink on its underside. The colour of this species changes depending on its environment, appearing darker when underwater and lighter on land in higher temperatures. The tail of the male Semirechensk salamander is generally longer than that of the female, and during the breeding season the male also has a much more prominent crest. The breeding season starts in April, following the snow melt, and continues until August. Throughout the breeding season, this species is aquatic, but it is terrestrial for the remainder of the year. Hibernation begins soon after the end of the breeding season.

The Semirechensk salamander has an extremely restricted range, being found only in the Dzungarian Alatau Mountain range in southern Kazakhstan and the Tianshan Mountains in northwest China. It occurs in small, cold, clear streams and brooks in mountainous areas, surrounded by coniferous forests and meadows.

This species is vulnerable to habitat changes including deforestation, over-grazing and soil erosion. Current populations are severely fragmented as a result of the scarcity of suitable habitats. The Semirechensk salamander is used locally as a basis for the treatment of malaria and broken bones, and collection for scientific, medical and commercial use has greatly reduced populations of this species in some areas.

Only one part of the Semirechensk salamander’s range is thought to fall within a protected area, although its presence there is unconfirmed. Current conservation efforts are thought to be insufficient to protect this endangered amphibian, but the creation of strictly protected areas could be an effective conservation measure to ensure its future survival.

Find out more about the Semirechensk salamander at the IUCN Red List and AmphibiaWeb.

See images of the Semirechensk salamander on ARKive.

Phoebe Shaw Stewart, ARKive Text Author

Nov 26

The latest update to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has revealed that the okapi – the national symbol of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – is creeping ever closer towards extinction.

Okapi image

The okapi is now classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Into the Red

The okapi, also known as the ‘forest giraffe’, is endemic to the rainforests of the DRC, and has been found to be in serious decline across its range as a result of poaching and habitat loss. Following the latest set of assessments for the IUCN Red List, the okapi has been moved from being classified as Near Threatened to the far more serious category of Endangered. The presence of rebels, elephant poachers and illegal miners in its habitat have also contributed to the okapi’s dwindling numbers, leaving it just one step away from the highest risk of extinction.

The okapi is revered in Congo as a national symbol – it even features on the Congolese franc banknotes,” says Dr Noëlle Kümpel, co-chair of the IUCN SSC Giraffe and Okapi Specialist Group and manager of ZSL’s range-wide okapi conservation project. “Sadly, DRC has been caught up in civil conflict and ravaged by poverty for nearly two decades, leading to widespread degradation of okapi habitat and hunting for its meat and skin. Supporting government efforts to tackle the civil conflict and extreme poverty in the region are critical to securing its survival.”

The latest update to the IUCN Red List brings the total number of species assessed to 71,576, of which a worrying 21,286 are threatened with extinction. Threats to the world’s species range from habitat destruction and climate change to pollution and overexploitation.

Black-browed albatross

The black-browed albatross has been moved from Endangered to Near Threatened

Bad news for birds

According to the update, almost 200 species of bird are now classified as Critically Endangered, with the latest addition being the white-winged flufftail, one of Africa’s rarest birds. This small, secretive bird has suffered as a result of habitat destruction and degradation in its native Ethiopia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Wetland draining, water abstraction, overgrazing and conversion of land for agriculture have all played a part in the decline of this species, and the IUCN is calling for urgent action to better understand this species’ ecology and address these threats.

Positive stories

However, it is not all bad news, as the population numbers of some species are currently increasing. The albatross family is one of the most threatened bird families on Earth, with bycatch in fisheries being the main threat to their survival, but populations of two such species are on the increase, putting them at a lower risk of extinction. The black-browed albatross has improved in status from Endangered to Near Threatened, while the black-footed albatross has moved from Vulnerable to Near Threatened.

Island fox image

The island fox is endemic to the California Channel Islands

Conservation success

One particularly positive story is that of the island fox, a canid endemic to six of the California Channel Islands off the coast of southern California in the USA. This species was once classified as Critically Endangered following catastrophic declines in the mid-1990s as a result of disease and predation by non-native species such as the golden eagle. All four subspecies of this relative of the mainland grey fox have since increased in number or are showing signs of recovery. The island fox’s change in status to Near Threatened is a credit to the hard work of the US National Park Service, an IUCN Member, which included captive breeding, reintroduction, vaccination against canine diseases, and the relocation of golden eagles.

Leatherback turtle image

Leatherback turtle

More to be done

This IUCN Red List update shows some fantastic conservation successes, which we must learn from, for future conservation efforts,” says Jane Smart, Global Director, IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Group. “However, the overall message remains bleak. With each update, whilst we see some species improving in status, there is a significantly larger number of species appearing in the threatened categories. The world must urgently scale up efforts to avert this devastating trend.”

The importance of scientific knowledge and continued conservation action is highlighted in the case of the leatherback turtle. While the status of the global population of this species appears to be improving, the leatherback turtle continues to face serious threats at the subpopulation level. One of seven biologically and geographically distinct subpopulations, the Northwest Atlantic Ocean leatherback subpopulation is abundant and increasing thanks to successful conservation initiatives in the region. However, its counterparts from both the East Pacific Ocean and West Pacific Ocean subpopulations are suffering a severe decline as a result of extensive egg harvesting and incidental capture in fishing gear. It is feared that these threatened subpopulations may completely collapse if targeted conservation measures are not taken.

Black-footed albatross image

Populations of the black-footed albatross are on the increase

Raising awareness

Wildscreen, an IUCN Red List Partner, is working towards raising awareness of the diversity of life on Earth and highlighting the plight of its many threatened species. Through its biggest public engagement initiative, ARKive, an unparalleled collection of wildlife footage and images is being made freely available to all for conservation and education.

Educating people about the current extinction crisis is a vital aspect of the conservation movement,” says Dr Verity Pitts, ARKive Content Manager. “By connecting the world with nature, and successfully communicating the importance of biodiversity, we move one step closer to reversing – or at least halting – the decline of our most valuable resources.”


Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Content Officer


Jul 2

The latest update to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species highlights a worrying decline in many economically and medicinally valuable species, from small freshwater shrimps and cone snails to gargantuan conifers, some of the world’s oldest and largest organisms.

Bristlecone pine image

The bristlecone pine can live for up to 5,000 years

An impressive 4,807 species have been added to the IUCN Red List this year, bringing the total number of assessed species to 70,294, of which 20,934 are threatened with extinction. With the latest figures comes the upsetting news that three species have been declared Extinct: the Cape Verde giant skink (Chioninia coctei), the Santa Cruz pupfish (Cyprinodon arcuatus) and Macrobrachium leptodactylus, a freshwater shrimp.

Concern for conifers

These figures include the first global reassessment of conifers, a plant group which holds immense economic and medicinal value. For example, softwoods are used for paper and timber production, and the anti-cancer drug Taxol is derived from the bark of many species of yew. In addition, conifers take three times more carbon out of the atmosphere than temperate and tropical forests, making them the second most important biome on Earth for tackling climate change, after wetlands.

Worryingly, IUCN’s latest update shows that 34% of the world’s cedars, cypresses, firs and other cone-bearing plants are now threatened with extinction, an increase of 4% since the last complete assessment of this group 15 years ago.

Among the 33 conifer species whose conservation status has declined since the last assessment is the Guadalupe Island pine (Pinus radiata), which has moved from Least Concern – a category used for species at relatively low extinction risk – to Endangered. The most widely planted pine, valued for its pulp qualities and rapid growth, the Guadalupe Island pine faces several threats in its natural habitat, including illegal logging, feral goats and disease.

Guadalupe Island pine image

The Guadalupe Island pine is now classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List

Conservation success

Despite the alarming picture painted by the latest figures, there are some glimmers of hope. As a result of successful conservation action, Lawson’s cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana) has changed status, moving from Vulnerable to Near Threatened. Once a heavily traded species also threatened by disease, this conifer has improved in status following the introduction of better management practices in California and Oregon, and it is thought that this species could be listed as Least Concern within ten years if conservation action continues.

Conservation works and the results for the Lawson’s cypress are reassuring,” said Aljos Farjon, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission‘s Conifer Specialist Group. “However, this is clearly not enough. More research into the status and distribution of many species is urgently needed. We suspect that there are many new species waiting to be described but it is likely that they will never be found due to the rate of deforestation and habitat conversion for oil plantations.

Mammal assessments

White-lipped peccary image

Hunting, habitat loss and disease are threatening the white-lipped peccary

Hunting, habitat loss and suspected disease are all thought to have contributed to the decline of the white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari), a member of the pig family found in Central and South America. This species has declined by an alarming 89% in Costa Rica and by 84% in Mexico and Guatemala, and is now listed as Vulnerable.

Newly assessed on the IUCN Red List is the Yangtze finless porpoise (Neophocaena asiaeorientalis asiaeorientalis), a subspecies of the narrow-ridged finless porpoise. Found only in China’s Yangtze River and two adjoining lakes, this species is one of the world’s few remaining freshwater cetaceans, and its population has been declining by more than 5% annually since the 1980s. As a result of its small population size and increasing threats, including illegal fishing, high levels of vessel traffic and pollution, the Yangtze finless porpoise has been classified as Critically Endangered.

This latest Red List update is further evidence of our impact on the world’s threatened biodiversity,” said Richard Edwards, Chief Executive of Wildscreen, the charity behind the ARKive initiative. “Further evidence that extinction is real, and that we must all act, and act now, if we are to prevent this most tragic reality for many more of the world’s species.”

Yangtze finless porpoise image

The Yangtze finless porpoise is a subspecies of the narrow-ridged finless porpoise

First for freshwater shrimps

The first ever global assessment of freshwater shrimps has also been completed as part of this latest update, with the results showing that 28% of this group are threatened with extinction due to the effects of pollution, habitat modification and the aquarium trade. As well as being an important part of the freshwater food web, freshwater shrimps such as the giant river prawn (Macrobrachium rosenbergii) are used for human consumption.

Another first for the IUCN Red List is the assessment of cone snails, of which 8% are at risk of extinction. These tropical invertebrates are important predators in their marine ecosystem, and in addition are extremely valuable to the medical industry, as their lethal toxins are used for the development of new pain-relieving drugs. The beautiful shells of these species have been collected for centuries and in some cases are worth thousands of dollars, although the greatest threats to cone snails are habitat loss and pollution.

Once again, an update of the IUCN Red List provides us with some disturbing news,” said Simon Stuart, Wildscreen trustee and Chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission. “However, there are instances of successes. For example, increased survey efforts in Costa Rica have uncovered new subpopulations of the Costa Rica brook frog and the green-eyed frog. Sadly, much more needs to be done as the overall trend to extinction continues in many species.

Starrett's tree frog image

The rediscovered Starrett’s tree frog has been moved from Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct) to Critically Endangered

Trapdoor spider image

This Critically Endangered trapdoor spider, known only from a single cave in Malaysia, is a new addition to the 2013 IUCN Red List









To learn more about the latest update to the IUCN Red List, read the IUCN Red List update press release.


Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Text Author


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