From: Ed Cropley, Reuters
Published November 17, 2004 12:00 AM

Scientists Say More Than 15,000 Species Facing Extinction

BANGKOK − More than 15,000 species, from sharks to frogs to fir trees, are facing extinction and the total is rising faster than ever before, conservationists and scientists said on Wednesday. Despite efforts to slow or reverse the slide into oblivion of many species, one in three amphibians and almost half of all freshwater turtles are threatened, the IUCN World Conservation Union said at the unveiling of its 2004 species "Red List."


One in eight types of bird and a quarter of all mammals are also known to be in jeopardy, the conservation group said at the beginning of its eight-day World Conservation Congress in the Thai capital. In reality, the situation is probably far worse.


"Although 15,589 species are known to be threatened with extinction, this greatly underestimates the true number as only a fraction of known species have been assessed," said Craig Hilton-Taylor, the IUCN's "Red List" programme officer.


"There is still much to be discovered about key species-rich habitats, such as tropical forests, marine and freshwater systems or particular groups, such as invertebrates, plants and fungi, which make up the majority of biodiversity."


Even the depths of the world's oceans are providing little refuge to marine species, which are being over-exploited to the point of extinction. Nearly 20 percent of shark and ray species so far assessed were found to be threatened, the IUCN said.


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On a positive note, scientists from the world's largest conservation organisation said steps taken to preserve some "at risk" species appeared to have borne fruit.


For instance, a quarter of the world's threatened birds had benefited from conservation measures, they said.


Noteable improvements in the 2004 "Red List" include the European otter, which has moved from 'vulnerable' to 'near threatened', and the Christmas Island Imperial pigeon, once 'critically endangered' but now only 'vulnerable'.


However, overall, the list is more marked for its losers since 2003 than its winners.


Examples include the now-extinct St Helena olive, the Hawaiian crow, which has become 'extinct in the wild', and the Balearic shearwater and giant Hispaniolan galliwasp lizard, which are now both 'critically endangered'.


The 56-year-old green group said world leaders were waking up to the importance of conservation, but that more must be done.


"Governments are starting to realise the value of biodiversity and the critical roles it plays in their people's well-being," said David Brackett, head of the IUCN's Species Survival Commission.


"Species provide food, medicine, fuel and building materials. They help filter water, decompose waste, generate soil and pollinate crops. Recognition of this is growing but governments need to mobilise far more resources," he said.


Based on the findings of research conducted since its last meeting in Amman in 2000 and decisions taken at the Bangkok Congress, the IUCN will draw up priorities for world conservation work for the coming four years.


Source: Reuters


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