Jul 16

The lemurs of Madagascar are far more threatened than previously thought, according to a new assessment for the IUCN.

Photo of ring-tailed lemur with young on back

Ring-tailed lemur

The assessment, being carried out by scientists from the Primate Specialist Group, aims to decide how lemurs should be classified on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It has found that over 90% of lemur species should be placed in the Red List threatened categories.

Most threatened mammal group

The previous IUCN lemur assessment, published in 2008, classified 8 lemur species as Critically Endangered, 18 as Endangered and 14 as Vulnerable. However, the new assessment shows a worrying increase in threat levels, with 23 lemurs qualifying as Critically Endangered, 52 as Endangered and 19 as Vulnerable.

That means that 91% of all lemurs are assessed as being in one of the Red List threatened categories, which is far and away the largest proportion of any group of mammals,” said Dr Russ Mittermeier, Chairman of the Primate Specialist Group and President of Conservation International.

Photo of Madame Berthe's mouse lemur resting on a branch

Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur

The scientists have also confirmed that there are more lemur species than previously thought. Detailed study and genetic testing have revealed a number of cases where lemurs have been presumed to be from the same species, but in fact are from different ones. The 103rd species, a new type of mouse lemur, was identified during this assessment but has yet to be named.

Lack of law enforcement

The main threats to lemurs come from widespread deforestation and hunting. Since a coup in Madagascar in 2009, repeated evidence of illegal logging has been found, while hunting of lemurs has emerged as a new and increasing threat. A decline in traditional taboos is also likely to be contributing to hunting of lemurs for bushmeat.

Photo of silky sifaka pair in tree

Silky sifakas

Although elections have been promised in the country, several scheduled election dates have already passed, and a lack of law enforcement is only exacerbating the threats to Madagascar’s wildlife.

Several national parks have been invaded, but of greater concern is the breakdown in control and enforcement,” said Dr Mittermeier. “There’s just no government enforcement capacity, so forests are being invaded for timber, and inevitably that brings hunting as well.”

Photo of Alaotran gentle lemur with young on back

Alaotran gentle lemur

Around 90% of Madagascar’s original forests have already been lost, and lemurs and other endemic species are becoming increasingly threatened within the remaining forest fragments.

The latest assessments of the conservation status of lemurs will be reviewed and confirmed by other experts before forming part of the IUCN’s next global Red List update.

Read more on this story at BBC News – Lemurs sliding towards extinction.

View photos and videos of lemurs on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

Jun 7

Nearly 100 species of Amazonian birds have a significantly increased risk of extinction, according to the 2012 IUCN Red List update for birds, which was released today by BirdLife International.

Photo of hoary-throated spinetail in forest habitat

Hoary-throated spinetail, uplisted from Endangered to Critically Endangered in the IUCN Red List update

For Amazon species, the new conservation assessments are based on models projecting the patterns and extent of deforestation in the region. Of particular concern are species with longer lifespans, such as the Rio Branco antbird, which is unable to tolerate even moderate rates of forest loss.

Others, like the hoary-throated spinetail, may lose over 80% of their habitat in coming decades. As a result, many species have been placed into higher threat categories on the IUCN Red List.

We have previously underestimated the risk of extinction that many of Amazonia’s bird species are facing,” said Dr Leon Bennun, BirdLife’s Director of Science, Policy and Information. “However, given recent weakening of Brazilian forest law, the situation may be even worse than recent studies have predicted.”

Photo of Rio Branco antbird on a branch, flapping wings

Rio Branco antbird, uplisted from Near Threatened to Critically Endangered

Global declines

Undertaken every four years, the 2012 update is a comprehensive review of the conservation status of the world’s 10,000-plus bird species. Worryingly, it shows that the Amazon is not the only part of the world seeing large declines in bird populations.

In Northern Europe, the long-tailed duck is of particular concern, with over 1 million individuals disappearing from the Baltic Sea in the last 20 years. The status of this species has been uplisted to ‘Vulnerable’, but the reasons for its decline are unclear. Another sea duck, the velvet scoter, is faring even worse, and has now been listed as Endangered.

Photo of white-backed vulture with wings spread

White-backed vulture, uplisted from Near Threatened to Endangered

In Africa, white-backed vultures and Rueppell’s griffons are increasingly under threat, with rapid declines occurring as a result of poisoning, habitat loss and persecution. Their decline has wider implications, as these species play a vital role in the food chain by feeding on dead animals.

Good news

The update does not reveal all bad news, however. For example, the restinga antwren, a rare bird from southeast Brazil, has been downlisted from Critically Endangered after surveys found it to be more widely distributed than previously thought. The creation of a new protected area is also likely to make its future more secure.

For some birds, conservation efforts have helped to turn around their fate. The Rarotonga flycatcher, a species endemic to the Cook Islands, was once one of the world’s rarest birds. However, intensive conservation efforts, particularly the control of invasive alien predators such as black rats, have helped bring this species back from the brink of extinction.

Photo of male restinga antwren perched

Restinga antwren, downlisted from Critically Endangered to Endangered

Such successes show the remarkable achievements that are possible where effort and dedication by conservationists and local communities are backed up with political support and adequate resources,” said Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s Global Research Coordinator.

More conservation action needed

With many bird species around the world facing a number of increased threats, BirdLife has called for conservation efforts to be increased.

Photo of Rarotonga flycatcher perched on branch

Rarotonga flycatcher, downlisted from Endangered to Vulnerable as a result of successful conservation efforts

The worrying projections for the Amazon emphasize the urgent need for governments to meet their international commitments by establishing comprehensive protected area networks that are adequately funded and effectively managed,” said Dr Butchart.

According to Jane Smart, Global Director of IUCN’s Biodiversity Conservation Group, “It is clear that conservation works, but more action is needed if we are to protect these magnificent species which play an integral role in maintaining healthy ecosystems on which both birds and humans depend.”

Read more on this story at BirdLife International – Threat to the Amazon’s birds greater than ever, Red List update reveals.

Find out more about threatened birds at BirdLife International – Spotlight on threatened birds.

View photos and videos of birds on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

May 18

Endangered Species Day, which was started by the United States Senate, is a chance to raise awareness about the plight of the thousands of animals and plants around the world threatened with extinction. People across the USA are taking part in events to support the day and promote conservation. However, it shouldn’t stop there, wherever you are in the world you can do your bit to support this day too.

In honour of this day, the ARKive team have had a good dig around in the collection to showcase some of the slightly less famous, but no less important, endangered species from the USA.

Soaking up the rays

Photo of the Alabama red-bellied turtle

The striking Alabama red-bellied turtle is endemic to the states of Alabama and Mississippi and is now listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. You might often spot this critter basking in sunshine on fallen logs. Sadly, one of the main threats to this species is the destruction to nesting habitats and the collection of eggs by humans as a food source.

Clever little beetle

American burying beetle photo

The vibrant American burying beetle is currently Critically Endangered and is the largest carrion beetle in North America. At night, beetle pairs will locate a suitable carcass and then cooperate to bury it in the soil, thus protecting their find from competition with other species. One of the major causes of this species’ decline is the fragmentation of available habitat, a global threat to many species.

Curious creatures

Photo of a group of black-footed ferrets at burrow

Once classified as Extinct in the Wild, the black-footed ferret is one of the world’s rarest mammals and the only ferret native to North America. Today, following concerted conservation efforts, reintroduced black-footed ferret populations exist in eight western states and Chihuahua. While this is a fantastic conservation success story, wild ferret populations remain small, and conservation will need to continue if this species’ future is to be secured.

Happy chappy

Photo of a California tiger salamander

Due to the low numbers of this species in the wild and its nocturnal habits, the California tiger salamander is a rarely seen amphibian. This species prefers to spend most of its life underground, often in the burrows of California ground squirrels. With its range now reduced to less than 50 percent of its original historical extent, conservation action is necessary to ensure the future of this Vulnerable species.

Tallest on Earth

Coast redwood photo

Coast redwood forests once stretched along the coast from Santa Cruz to Oregon in the USA. Around 90 to 95 percent of old growth forest has since been logged due to its extensive use in construction, and the remainder is now almost entirely in parks and reserves. This Vulnerable species is one of tallest trees on Earth, reaching up to 379 feet (115.5 m) in height.

Colourful desert-dweller

Photo of gila monster bathing in sun

The Near Threatened Gila monster is the largest lizard in the United States, and one of the few species of venomous lizard in the world. With their venomous bite and elusive nature, these lizards have inspired many myths over the centuries. However, much of the bushland of the Gila monster’s habitat has been cleared for agriculture and remaining populations are isolated in habitat fragments.

Critically Endangered crayfish

Delaware County Cave crayfish photo

The Delaware County cave crayfish is known from just three caves which occur in a very small area of Delaware County, within the Neosho River watershed. Its biggest threat is the disposal of untreated animal wastes from surrounding hog farms and poultry houses which are seeping into the groundwater. Measures have been put in place in an attempt to reduce the impact of groundwater pollution, however nothing has been done to improve the water quality of the Neshos river. More conservation work needs to be done in order to save this species from extinction.

Aquatic predator

Giant garter snake photo

The giant garter snake lives a highly aquatic lifestyle, rarely being found away from water, where it is an active hunter, foraging mainly for fish and amphibians. Unfortunately this species has been lost from much of its former range as a result of the loss, fragmentation and degradation of its wetland habitats. The total population of the giant garter snake is currently unknown, but its declining range makes the species increasingly vulnerable to extinction.

Butter wouldn’t melt

Giant kangaroo rat photo

This adorable giant kangaroo rat is endemic to the San Joaquin Valley in California. Population numbers have plummeted during the 20th Century, mainly as a result of habitat loss as desert areas were converted to agriculture. Luckily, a Recovery Plan has been developed in an effort to secure the future survival of this species, and populations are protected within the Carrizo Plan Natural Heritage Reserve.

From another time

Alligator snapping turtle photo

One of the largest freshwater turtles in the world, the alligator snapping turtle is a prehistoric-looking species with a reputation as the ‘dinosaur of the turtle world’. It is another endemic species to the USA and there has been a major decline in numbers as a result of over-collection by a major soup manufacturing company and over-harvesting for their meat in many states.

Get involved

These are just a few examples of the endangered species on our planet. If you can spread the word and show your support through facebook or twitter or just speak to your friends about it – every little bit helps to raise awareness. If you are in the USA, take a look at the Stop Extinction website to get more ideas of what you can do and what events are running near you.

Rebecca Sennett, ARKive Media Researcher

Jan 25

Immediate action on habitat loss is needed to secure the future of the Sumatran elephant, according to WWF.

Photo of Sumatran elephant bathing and spraying water with trunk

Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus) bathing

A subspecies of the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), the Sumatran elephant has been uplisted by the IUCN Red List from Endangered to Critically Endangered after losing nearly 70% of its habitat and half its population in the last 25 years.

This dramatic decline is largely due to widespread deforestation on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia, with much of the elephant’s natural habitat being converted for agriculture, oil palm production and timber plantations.

Rapid deforestation rate

Three subspecies of Asian elephant are generally recognised: the Sumatran elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus) on Sumatra, the Sri Lankan elephant (E. m. maximus) in Sri Lanka, and the Indian elephant (E. m. indicus) on the Asian mainland.

Photo of Asian elephants in deep jungle

Asian elephants in forest habitat

Although Sumatra holds some of the most significant populations of Asian elephants outside of India and Sri Lanka, it has experienced some of the most rapid deforestation rates within the species’ range. As a result of increasing human encroachment, many elephant populations have come into conflict with humans, and Asian elephants are also illegally targeted for their ivory.

Only an estimated 2,400 to 2,800 Sumatran elephants now remain in the wild, and the species has been lost from many parts of the island. Confined to the remaining forest patches, many herds are now too small and isolated to remain viable in the long term.

If current trends continue, it is feared that the Sumatran elephant could become extinct within the next 30 years.

Photo of Sri Lankan elephant herd in shallow water

Herd of Sri Lankan elephants (Elephas maximus maximus), another Asian elephant subspecies

Urgent action needed

The Sumatran elephant joins a growing list of Indonesian species that are Critically Endangered, including the Sumatran orangutan, the Javan and Sumatran rhinos and the Sumatran tiger,” said Dr Carlos Drews, Director of WWF’s Global Species Programme.

Unless urgent and effective conservation action is taken these magnificent animals are likely to go extinct within our lifetime.”

WWF is calling on the Indonesian government to ban all forest conversion in elephant habitat until a conservation strategy can be put in place to conserve the species. It also recommends that large patches of habitat should be designated as protected areas, and that smaller areas should be linked with habitat corridors.

Photo of Indian elephant calf

Indian elephant (Elephas maximus indicus) calf

According to Asian elephant expert Ajay Desai, “It’s very important that the Government of Indonesia, conservation organisations and agro-forestry companies recognise the critical status of elephant and other wildlife in Sumatra and take effective steps to conserve them.

Indonesia must act now before it’s too late to protect Sumatra’s last remaining natural forests, especially elephant habitats.”

Read more on this story at WWF – Habitat loss drives Sumatran elephants step closer to extinction.

View photos and videos of Asian elephants on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

Nov 22

Last week, the Hula painted frog (Discoglossus nigriventer) — one of our “Ten Most Wanted Amphibians” during last year’s Search for Lost Frogs — was rediscovered in Israel.

Hula painted frogHula painted frog

Israel’s Lake Hula is one of the oldest documented lakes, providing fertile hunting and fishing grounds for humans for tens of thousands of years. But in the early 1950s, the lake and surrounding marshes were drained.

Though initially celebrated as a great national achievement for tackling malaria, in time it became increasingly evident that the benefits of draining the swamps were limited, but the costs were high. Exposed soil blew away and dried peat ignited, causing underground fires that proved hard to control. A nearby lake became polluted with chemical fertilizers, raising water quality concerns. The draining also led to the near extinction of an entire ecosystem and the unique endemic fauna of the lake, including the Hula painted frog. Ironically, species such as the painted frog feed on mosquitoes that carry malaria.
Concern over the draining of Hula grew among the people of Israel, leading to the formation of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and a movement for the reflooding of the Hula Valley. It took 40 years for the protesters’ voices to be heard, but in the mid 1990s, parts of the Hula Valley were reflooded.
While much of the ecosystem was restored, not all species re-appeared and it was believed to be too late for the Hula painted frog; the species was declared extinct in 1996 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The frog became a poignant symbol for extinction in Israel.
Only three adult Hula painted frogs had ever been found. Two of these had been collected into captivity in the 1940s, but the larger one ate the smaller one, leaving just one specimen to remember the species by. The enigmatic frog was selected as one of the “top ten” species during the Search for Lost Frogs last year, highlighting the global importance of this species. It was lost but not forgotten.
But the story has just had a surprising twist. Earlier this week, Nature and Parks Authority warden Yoram Malka was conducting his routine patrol of the Hula Nature Reserve when something jumped from under him. He lunged after it and caught it: he was holding in his hand the first Hula painted frog seen since the year Elvis Presley first appeared on television.
This rediscovery is the icing on the cake of what is a major victory for conservation in Israel: the restoration of a rare and unique ecosystem. Because Israel has given the Hula Valley a second chance to thrive, the Hula frog has gone from being a symbol of extinction to a symbol of resilience. It is stories like this that bring hope to any conservation effort: if we give nature a chance, she may just surprise us.

Dr. Robin Moore, Amphibian Conservation Officer, Conservation International


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