Too many people

Published: Sunday 30 November 2008

...too few mammal species. Homo sapiens' success on Earth has a big price. IUCN's 2008 Red List of Threatened Species has 1,140 of the 5,487 mammal species --25 per cent--as threatened with extinction

Major threats to mammal species
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  • The Red List categorizes species based on the degree of threat they face--extinct, extinct in the wild, critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable and near threatened. Species with no specific threat are categorized as least concern

  • 188 mammal species are placed in highest threat category of critically endangered of which 29 are possibly extinct. 76 of them have already become extinct since 1500 CE

  • 450 mammal species have been listed as endangered.The fishing cat, found in South and Southeast Asia (including India), moved from vulnerable to endangered due to loss of wetlands, its primary habitat

  • An infectious disease has forced the Tasmanian devil (found in the Australian island state of Tasmania) to shift from least concern to endangered category as its population reduced by more than 60 per cent in the last 10 years

  • Leopard, categorized as least concern since they were doing well, moved to near threatened category in 2007. Similarly, sambar, which was never at risk till 1996 moved to vulnerable category in 2008. The Asiatic wild ass also moved to higher threat category of endangered from vulnerable

  • Over 800 mammal species (15 per cent) could not be includeded in the Red List due to lack of sufficient data

  • Of the top 20 countries with threatened mammal species, 10 are from Asia. Indonesia has the largest mammal diversity of 670 species, of which 184 are threatened, followed by Mexico which has 100 threatened species out of 523. India has 96 mammals categorized as threatened out of about 350

  • Habitat loss affects 40 per cent of the mammals--mostly in Central and South America, West, East and Central Africa, Madagascar, and in South and Southeast Asia. Resource exploitation affects over 900 mammal species mainly in Asia
Dwindling number of mammalian species, 1996-2008
  Changes in numbers of mammalian species in
various threat categories from 1996 to 2008
1996/98 2000 2002 2003 2004 2006 2007 2008
Critically Endangered 169 180 181 184 162 162 163 188
Endangered 315 340 339 337 352 348 349 448
Vulnerable 612 610 617 609 587 583 582 505
Not just mammals
  • Of the 44,838 animal species assessed, 16,928 are threatened with extinction (38 per cent); 3,246 are critically endangered; 4,770 endangered and 8,912 vulnerable

  • Indian tarantulas, Rameshwaram parachute spider and peacock parachute tarantula are listed as critically endangered because of habitat destruction, illegal collection and pet trade

  • 366 amphibian species worldwide have also been added to the 2008 list. Now 1,983 species of amphibians (32 per cent) are either threatened or extinct

  • The avian species also show a steady decline in the status between 1988 and 2008. Since 1988, 225 bird species have turned more threatened, compared to just 32 species that have shifted to less threatened category
Not all bad news
  • Conservation efforts can bring species back from the brink of extinction if backed by research. Five per cent of currently threatened mammals show signs of recovery in the wild. The wild horse moved from extinct in the wild in 1996 to critically endangered in 2008 after successful reintroduction in Mongolia in the early 1990s. The African elephant moved from vulnerable to near threatened category


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