Jan 25
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In the News: Sumatran elephant heading towards extinction

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
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Lost frog found: Extinct Hula painted frog rediscovered – Robin Moore

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

Nov 22
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In the News: Latest IUCN figures show an alarming decline in European biodiversity

New research, published today by the IUCN Red List, reveals the worrying status of Europe’s species.

Appenine yellow-bellied toad image

The Appenine yellow-bellied toad is endemic to Europe and is classified as Endangered

Natural heritage disappearing

Assessments of some 6,000 species of Europe’s native fauna and flora have been carried out for the European Red List, part of the global IUCN Red List, to determine their conservation status and uncover current threats to their existence. The results show an alarming decline in Europe’s natural heritage, with a large proportion of molluscs, freshwater fish and amphibians believed to be threatened with extinction.

IUCN’s latest report reveals that 44% of all European freshwater mollusc species are now under threat, as well as 37% of freshwater fish, 23% of amphibians, 19% of reptiles, 15% of mammals and dragonflies, 13% of birds and 9% of butterflies. Although assessments of entire vascular plant families have not been conducted, of the 1,805 species assessed within this group, just over 25% were found to be under threat.

Selections of terrestrial molluscs and saproxylic beetles were also assessed, with 20% and 11% being classified in threatened categories on the European Red List respectively.

Dark spreadwing image

Dark spreadwing

Human well-being at risk

The loss of biodiversity is a concern which affects everybody, as Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the Environment, explains, “The well-being of people in Europe and all over the world depends on goods and services that nature provides. If we don’t address the reasons behind this decline and act urgently to stop it, we could pay a very heavy price indeed.

Millions of people rely on freshwater fish for livelihoods and as a primary source of food, yet within Europe this species group is highly threatened, with pollution, overfishing, habitat loss and the introduction of alien species being the main causes for the declines. The news is particularly bad for sturgeons, with all but one of the eight European species now classified as Critically Endangered.

Despite being vital for food security, wild relatives of crop plants are frequently neglected in terms of conservation action. Wild relatives of economically important European crops such as sugar beet, wheat, oat and lettuce, were included as part of the vascular plant assessments, and showed a concerning level of threat. One such species is the Critically Endangered Beta patula, an important gene source for enhancing virus resistance in its close relative, the cultivated beet.

Spengler's freshwater mussel image

Spengler's freshwater mussel was considered to be nearly extinct in the 1980s

Molluscs in trouble

Freshwater molluscs were found to be the most threatened group of species within Europe so far. Once widespread, Spengler’s freshwater mussel (Margaritifera auricularia) is now restricted to just a handful of rivers in France and Spain, and was considered to be nearly extinct in the 1980s. This Critically Endangered species is one of two for which a European-level Action Plan has been designed, and it is hoped that current conservation programmes targeting the mollusc will prove fruitful.

The figures confirm the worrying condition of European molluscs,” says Annabelle Cuttelod, IUCN Coordinator of the European Red List. “When combined with the high level of threats faced by freshwater fish and amphibians, we can see that the European freshwater ecosystems are really under serious threats that require urgent conservation action.

Centranthe a trois nervures image

Thanks to conservation action, the centranthe à trois nervures has been downlisted from Critically Endangered to Endangered

Not all bad news

The latest IUCN results paint a grave picture of the status of Europe’s fauna and flora, but the assessments also provide some good news and highlight the success of well-designed conservation measures. Many species which are formally protected under the EU Habitats Directive, as well as those included in the Natura 2000 network of protected areas, are now attributed with an improved chance of survival.

As a result of strict protection of its only known site of occurrence, the centranthe à trois nervures, a plant endemic to Corsica, has been downlisted from Critically Endangered to Endangered. In addition, over the last decade the control of invasive species, including goats, rats and plants, has benefited the majority of threatened land snails in Madeira.

These are encouraging signs that show the benefits of conservation actions supported by strong policy,” says Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Director, IUCN Global Species Programme. “Continued implementation of the current European legislation combined with new conservation programmes is essential to preserve these important native species and their habitats.

Explore more threatened species on ARKive.

Find out more about the European Red List and the latest update.

Kathryn Pintus, ARKive Species Text Author

Nov 10
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In the News: IUCN Red List a step closer to becoming ‘Barometer of Life’

The latest report from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species shows that 61,914 species have now been assessed, providing a better insight than ever before into the state of the world’s biodiversity. The IUCN Red List now not only contains a higher number of species, but also a great diversity, moving it a step closer to becoming a true ‘Barometer of Life’.

Photo of a Przewalski's horse

Przewalski's horse is now listed as Endangered

Highs and Lows

While 25% of mammals are still at risk of extinction, the report covers conservation successes as well as losses. Przewalski’s horse was originally listed as Extinct in the Wild but, thanks to captive breeding and a successful reintroduction programme, the conservation status of this species has improved dramatically. This latest update sees this species downlisted from Critically Endangered to Endangered. 

Other species, however, have not fared so well, with a subspecies of the black rhinoceros now believed to be extinct, and the loss of the last Javan rhinoceros from Vietnam.

This update offers both good and bad news on the status of many species around the world,” says Jane Smart, Director, IUCN Global Species Programme. “We have the knowledge that conservation works if executed in a timely manner, yet, without strong political will in combination with targeted efforts and resources, the wonders of nature and the services it provides can be lost forever.

Photo of a black rhinoceros

Black rhinoceros: Critically Endangered

Photo of a Javan rhinoceros

Javan rhinoceros: Critically Endangered

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Other species at risk

In recent years, the conservation status of many of the world’s reptiles has been assessed, including most of the species of reptile found in Madagascar. A troubling 40% of the country’s reptiles are threatened with extinction, with 22 species being assessed as Critically Endangered, including the stunning Tarzan’s chameleon.

Many economically important species of fish are also at risk of extinction, with five of the eight species of tuna now listed as threatened or Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List. Among these is the northern bluefin tuna, previously listed as Data Deficient and now listed as Endangered. The yellowfin and albacore tuna have also both been placed in the Near Threatened category.

Photo of a yellowfin tuna

The yellowfin tuna is now listed as Near Threatened

One of the most closely monitored groups, the amphibians have seen 26 newly discovered species added to the IUCN Red List, including the blessed poison frog (Ranitomeya benedicta) and Summers’ poison frog (Ranitomeya summersi). Both of these species are threatened by habitat loss and harvesting for the international pet trade.

Work is currently being carried out to increase the number of plants assessed on the IUCN Red List, with the new report revealing that 77% of the endemic flowering plants of the Seychelles are believed to be at risk of extinction. The fascinating coco-de-mer palm, which has the largest seeds of any plant in the world, has now been uplisted to Endangered. 

It is hoped for many species that the latest IUCN Red List update will provide vital information to aid in conservation decision making.

Photo of the coco-de-mer

Seed of the Endangered coco-de-mer

ARKive’s role

Wildscreen, the charity behind ARKive, is working with the IUCN to promote a greater public appreciation of the world’s biodiversity and the conservation of nature through the power of wildlife imagery.

Expanding both the number and diversity of species assessed on the IUCN Red List is imperative if we are to conserve the natural world.” said Richard Edwards, Chief Executive of Wildscreen.

We need to address our disconnection from the natural world, and will only succeed in rescuing species from the brink of extinction if we successfully communicate their plight, significance, value and importance.

Explore more threatened species on ARKive.

Find out more about the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and this year’s update.

Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author

Oct 21
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In the News: IUCN predicts dramatic decline in polar bear habitat

A recent study by the IUCN has predicted that the amount of habitat available for the polar bear will be dramatically reduced in the next 10 to 50 years, mainly as a result of global climate change.

Polar bear image

Polar bear walking in habitat

Vanishing ice habitat

The IUCN, or International Union for Conservation of Nature, is one of the world’s leading conservation authorities. This recent research has predicted a bleak future for the polar bear, which is already classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Using recent trends in sea ice cover, research at the Norwegian Polar Institute has suggested that the summer sea ice habitat of the polar bear in the Polar Basin may vanish in as little as 10 years’ time.

Polar bears rely on sea ice in order to hunt for their main prey, the ringed seal. With global temperatures set to rise and the sea ice predicted to melt, polar bears will be unable to hunt, and will be forced to spend more time on land and rely on stored fat reserves. Less food also means bears will give birth to fewer, smaller young.

Polar bear image

Polar bear hunting on ice

Climate change

The polar bear is one of the first species to be designated as threatened due to climate change. Scientists, however, are predicting that climate change will cause a mass extinction of many species of plants and animals. Species that live or breed on low-lying remote islands, like marine turtles, are threatened by rising sea levels and extreme weather, and many plants, which cannot move to find new habitats, are disappearing from parts of their range, due to drought and higher temperatures.

Simon Stuart, Chair of the IUCN’s Species Survival Commission and Wildscreen Trustee, says “Climate change will be one of the major drivers of species extinctions in the 21st century. In order to slow the pace the adverse effects of climate change are having on species around the world, we must work to reduce use of energy from fossil fuels and ensure that our leaders make and adhere to strong commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions now.

 
Polar bear image

Polar bear swimming

Dag Vongraven of the Norwegian Polar Institute advises:

Now is the time to act in order to save the waning polar bear population. If we fail to make a stand to save this species we risk having the population become severely decimated, and quite certainly they will have disappeared from many areas where they’re found today.

For more information on the polar bear, visit the IUCN SSC Polar Bear Specialist Group.

View images and videos of the polar bear on ARKive.

Find out more about climate change on ARKive.

Explore the habitat of the polar bear on our Arctic eco-region pages.

Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author

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