Conducted by scientists working with the 52-member Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE), a new study identifies 794 species on the brink of oblivion.
JOHANNESBURG Mexico's volcano rabbit and monkey-faced bats in Fiji are among hundreds of species facing imminent extinction but protecting the remaining scraps of their habitat could save them, according to a new study. Conducted by scientists working with the 52-member Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE), the study identifies 794 species on the brink of oblivion.
"Safeguarding 595 sites around the world would help stave off an imminent global extinction crisis," AZE said in a statement.
"The study found that just one-third of the sites are known to have legal protection, and most are surrounded by human population densities that are approximately three times the global average," it said.
The report focuses on highly threatened species which are for the most part now confined to a single piece of habitat.
It said large concentrations of such sites were to be found in the Andes of South America, in Brazil's Atlantic Forests, throughout the Caribbean, and in Madagascar. The United States is also home to many of the pinpointed sites.
Mexico's rare volcano rabbit -- restricted to the slopes of four volcanoes in the country's remote interior -- is one of the species at greatest risk.
The "imminent extinction" list includes the Bloody Bay poison frog of Trinidad and Tobago, the monkey-faced bat of Fiji, the ivory-billed woodpecker in the United States, the cloud rat of the Philippines, and the marvelous spatuletail, a hummingbird limited to one Peruvian valley.
"This is a one-shot deal for the human race. We have a moral obligation to act. The science is in, and we are almost out of time," said Mike Parr, Secretary of AZE.
The study, published in the U.S.-based Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (www.pnas.org), is the latest to suggest that human activities are causing a new wave of extinctions which the authors say is 100 to 1,000 times greater than natural rates.
"In recent history, most species extinctions have occurred on isolated islands following the introduction of invasive predators such as cats and rats," AZE said.
"This study shows that the extinction crisis has now expanded to become a full-blown assault on Earth's major land masses, with the majority of at-risk sites and species now found on continental mountains and in lowland areas," it said.
According to the World Conservation Union, almost 800 species have become extinct since 1500, when accurate historical and scientific records began.
Scientists say that extinctions are creeping onshore because continental habitats are being diced up by human activities-- a process that is creating what some biologists term "virtual islands", isolated fragments that are cut off from each other by fences, asphalt, farms and cities.
Habitat destruction, overhunting, climate change and pollution are other major factors behind extinctions.