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Latest IUCN Report: Results Paint a “Bleak Picture” of Mammals, but There Is Reason to Hope

An international team of scientists, including Dr. James Burton of Earthwatch, published an analysis of the latest IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ in Science today.

The report is the most comprehensive assessment to date of the world’s wild mammals, and is the result of a five-year effort including data collected by more than 1,700 experts in 130 countries. It presents overwhelming evidence of an extinction crisis, with almost one in four mammal species at risk of disappearing forever.

Burton, Chair of the IUCN Asian Wild Cattle Specialist Group, said, “Declining mammal populations are just one tragic symptom of the increasing pressures on habitats and natural resources. In this challenging economic climate, it is vital that we do not lose sight of the benefits and services that ecosystems provide – carbon sequestration, provision of fresh water and resources, as well as aesthetic and cultural values to name but a few.”

Burton reviewed the status of Asian wild cattle and buffalo for the report. “This assessment highlights the scale of the problem facing many mammal species. The decline we have seen in wild cattle and buffalo applies across all mammals in South-East Asia,” he said. “These declines can be largely attributed to habitat loss and degradation. Urgent action is needed if we are to avoid extinctions in the near future.”

Burton said there is good reason for hope and it is not too late to act. While the results of the study indicate that at least 1,141 of the 5,487 mammals assessed are threatened with extinction, they also show that targeted conservation efforts can bring species back from the brink. Five per cent of currently threatened mammals show signs of recovery in the wild, according to the report.

Environmental organizations such as Earthwatch offer ordinary people the opportunity to help conserve threatened species worldwide.

“Volunteers help to speed up the collection of data that inform environmental management decisions, while also learning in a very practical way about the complexities of natural ecosystems. They are invaluable,” Burton said.

Key findings from the study include:

• One in four mammal species is threatened with extinction

• The terrestrial mammals in Southeast Asia are particularly at risk

• The top threats to land mammals are habitat loss and harvesting (hunting, use for medicine, fuel and other materials)

• The top threats to marine mammals include accidental mortality (bycatch, vessel strikes) and pollution

• Scientists still have a lot to learn about mammals, and targeted conservation efforts can work.


The mission of the Earthwatch Institute is to engage people worldwide in scientific field research and education to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment. In 2008, Earthwatch will sponsor 130 research projects in more than 40 countries and 20 US states, making estimated volunteer field grants of $5 million. Since its founding in 1971, the organization has supported nearly 1,350 projects in 120 countries and 35 states. More than 90,000 volunteers have contributed $67 million and 11 million hours to scientific fieldwork.


IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges by supporting scientific research; managing field projects all over the world; and bringing governments, NGOs, the UN, international conventions and companies together to develop policy, laws and best practice.

The world's oldest and largest global environmental network, IUCN is a democratic membership union with more than 1,000 government and NGO member organizations, and almost 11,000 volunteer scientists and experts in some 160 countries. IUCN's work is supported by over 1,000 professional staff in 60 offices and hundreds of partners in public, NGO and private sectors around the world. IUCN's headquarters are located in Gland, near Geneva, in Switzerland.

About the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) and Species Programme

The Species Survival Commission (SSC) is the largest of IUCN’s six volunteer commissions with a global membership of 7,000 experts. SSC advises IUCN and its members on the wide range of technical and scientific aspects of species conservation and is dedicated to securing a future for biodiversity. SSC has significant input into the international agreements dealing with biodiversity conservation.

The IUCN Species Programme supports the activities of the IUCN Species Survival Commission and individual Specialist Groups, as well as implementing global species conservation initiatives. It is an integral part of the IUCN Secretariat and is managed from IUCN’s international headquarters in Gland, Switzerland. The Species Programme includes a number of technical units covering Species Trade and Use, the Red List Unit, Freshwater Biodiversity Assessments Unit, (all located in Cambridge, UK), and the Global Biodiversity Assessment Unit (located in Washington DC, USA).

Kristen Kusek | Newswise Science News
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