November 02, 2009 19:00 ET

Red List Update Shows Up Global Failure to Slow Biodiversity Loss

GLAND, SWITZERLAND--(Marketwire – Nov. 2, 2009) - The latest update of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species should cause alarm over the continuing unprecedented loss of species and the failure so far of mechanisms to arrest biodiversity loss, WWF said today. 

The 2009 Red List update, issued today by the IUCN, shows more than one-third (36 per cent) of the 47,677 species assessed are threatened with extinction. The assessment featured a special focus on freshwater species, which are being hit hard by pollution, loss of wetlands and water diversions. The planet's amphibians are the most threatened of all species with 1895 of 6285 species assessed in the Red List threatened with extinction.

The Red List ranks species according to their population status and threat levels. It shows the effects that habitat loss and degradation, over-exploitation, pollutants and climate change are having on the world's species.

"As crucial climate talks in Copenhagen draw near and with the International Year of Biodiversity around the corner, this is a wake-up call for world leaders," said Amanda Nickson, Director of the WWF International Species Programme. "We are a world away from protecting species from the threats they face and meeting the globally endorsed 2002 commitment of the Convention on Biological Diversity to deliver a significant reduction in the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010."

"This failure and the mechanisms to overcome it will need to be the dominant agenda item on next year's meeting of parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity."

Through its global initiatives, WWF is pursuing major efforts to arrest biodiversity decline in some of the most spectacular and highly diverse places on the planet, and to recover populations of some of the most endangered species, such as tigers.

It is estimated that less than 3200 tigers exist in the wild in a wide arc of countries from far eastern Russia to India and Indonesia. Tigers - an apex predator residing at the top of its food chain - occupy less than seven percent of their original range, which has contracted 40 percent from 10 years ago.

As tigers require a large home range, protection of the species and its habitat bring huge benefits to thousands of other species. An international summit scheduled for 2010 in Vladivostok in Russia is a critical opportunity to reverse the decline in tiger numbers and ensure their survival in the wild.

"Tigers are a symbol of what is happening to many species across the globe, and demonstrate the urgent need for the world to come up with the political will, policies, resources and incentives to maintain a living and diverse planet, " said Ms Nickson. "The IUCN is frank that its assessments are likely to understate the real extent of the loss of species."

Significant international meetings next year to address biodiversity loss and the threats to planetary life support systems include a major Conferences of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Ms Nickson noted that the CBD's 2010 target had probably underestimated the growing impact of climate change, which is now being increasingly recognised as an additional threat leading species of animals and plants towards extinction. 

The assessment of freshwater species continued to alarm, with more than one third of assessed freshwater fishes under threat of extinction and approaching half of all molluscs. In Lake Dianchi in China, the assessment found all seven freshwater snails and 12 of the 13 freshwater fish species new to the Red List were threatened by overharvesting, pollution and introduced fish species.

However, in a rare ray of hope in the new assessment, one freshwater fish, the Australian Grayling has been moved from being listed as Vulnerable to being listed as Near Threatened as a result of conservation efforts which included putting fish ladders on dams, improving streamside vegetation and policing anglers.

NOTE: Canadian spokespeople are available for comment

For more information please visit www.iucnredlist.org

Global figures for 2009 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species:

  • Total species assessed = 47,677
  • Total Extinct or Extinct in the Wild = 875 (2%) (Extinct = 809; Extinct in the Wild = 66).
  • Total threatened = 17,291 (36%) (Critically Endangered = 3,325; Endangered = 4,891; Vulnerable = 9,075).
  • Total Near Threatened = 3,650 (8%).
  • Total Lower Risk/conservation dependent = 281 (<1%) (this is an old category that is gradually being phased out of the Red List)
  • Total Data Deficient = 6,557 (14%)
  • Total Least Concern = 19,023 (40%)

NB: Not all species on the IUCN Red List are threatened. There are now more species on the IUCN Red List. This means that the overall percentage of threatened species has gone down by two percent. This is not because the status of the world's biodiversity is improving, but because we have assessed more species. In the past, Red List assessments often focused on species that were already thought to be threatened, but as the Red List grows to include more complete assessments across entire groups, we are beginning to have a better idea of the relative proportion of species which are threatened against those which are not threatened.

This press release and associated material can be found on www.wwf.ca

Contact Information

  • WWF-Canada
    Tara Wood
    Head of Press
    416-484-7710, (c) 647-400-9579
    Sarah Bladen
    Conservation Communications
    t +41 22 3649019, c +41 79 4150220