News release

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  • SSC
    News Release


    Confirming the Global Extinction Crisis
    A call for international action as the most authoritative global assessment of species loss is released

    London, Washington, Geneva, Ottawa
    Thursday, 28 September 2000
    (Embargoed 17.00h GMT)

    The global extinction crisis is as bad or worse than believed, with dramatic declines in populations of many species, including reptiles and primates, according to the 2000 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, released today.

    Since the last assessment in 1996, Critically Endangered primates increased from 13 to 19, and the number of threatened albatross species has increased from three to 16 due to long-line fisheries. Freshwater turtles, heavily exploited for food and medicinal use in Asia, went from 10 to 24 Critically Endangered species in just four years.

    These are among the alarming facts announced by the world's largest international conservation organisation, with the publication of the Red List, the most authoritative and comprehensive status assessment of global biodiversity.

    The release comes a week before the second World Conservation Congress in Amman, Jordan, where members of IUCN - The World Conservation Union will meet to define global conservation policy for the next four years, including ways of addressing the growing extinction crisis.

    "The fact that the number of critically endangered species has increased - mammals from 169 to 180; birds from 168 to 182, was a jolting surprise, even to those already familiar with today's increasing threats to biodiversity. These findings should be taken very seriously by the global community," says Maritta von Bieberstein Koch-Weser, IUCN's Director General.

    "The Red List is solid documentation of the global extinction crisis, and it reveals just the tip of the iceberg," says Russell A. Mittermeier, President of Conservation International and Chair of IUCN's Primate Specialist Group. "Many wonderful creatures will be lost in the first few decades of the 21st century unless we greatly increase levels of support, involvement and commitment to conservation.

    " Human and financial resources must be mobilised at between 10 and 100 times the current level to address this crisis, the Red List analysis report says. IUCN should join forces with a wide range of partners, continue to develop strong relationships with governments and local communities, and engage the private sector at a new level, it adds.

    A total of 11,046 species of plants and animals are threatened, facing a high risk of extinction in the near future, in almost all cases as a result of human activities. This includes 24 percent (one in four) of mammal species and 12 percent (one in eight) of bird species. The total number of threatened animal species has increased from 5,205 to 5,435.

    Indonesia, India, Brazil and China are among the countries with the most threatened mammals and birds, while plant species are declining rapidly in South and Central America, Central and West Africa, and Southeast Asia.

    Habitat loss and degradation affect 89 percent of all threatened birds, 83 percent of mammals, and 91 percent of threatened plants assessed. Habitats with the highest number of threatened mammals and birds are lowland and mountain tropical rainforest. Freshwater habitats are extremely vulnerable with many threatened fish, reptile, amphibian and invertebrate species.

    For the IUCN Red List system, scientific criteria are used to classify species into one of eight categories: Extinct, Extinct in the Wild, Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, Lower Risk, Data Deficient and Not Evaluated. A species is classed as threatened if it falls in the Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable categories.

    While the overall percentage of threatened mammals and birds has not greatly changed in four years, the magnitude of risk, shown by movements to the higher risk categories, has increased. The 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals included 169 Critically Endangered and 315 Endangered mammals; the 2000 analysis now lists 180 Critically Endangered and 340 Endangered mammals. For birds, there is an increase from 168 to 182 Critically Endangered and from 235 to 321 Endangered species.

    In the last 500 years, human activity has forced 816 species to extinction (or extinction in the wild). The increase in known bird extinctions is partly due to improved documentation and new knowledge, but 103 extinctions have occurred since 1800, indicating an extinction rate 50 times greater than the natural rate. Many species are lost before they are even discovered.

    A total of 18,276 species and subspecies are included in the 2000 Red List. Approximately 25 percent of reptiles, 20 percent of amphibians and 30 percent of fishes (mainly freshwater) so far assessed are listed as threatened. Since only a small proportion of these groups has been assessed, the percentage of threatened species could be much higher.

    As well as the animal species listed as threatened, 1,885 are classified as lower risk/near threatened - a category that has no specific criteria, and is used for species that come close to qualifying as Vulnerable. The majority of 'near threatened' animal species are mammals (602 - mainly bats and rodents) and birds (727).

    A total of 5,611 threatened plants are listed, but as only approximately 4 percent of the world's described plants have been evaluated, the true percentage of threatened plant species is much higher. With 16 percent of conifers (the most comprehensively assessed plant group), known to be threatened, the scale of threat for plants may be similar to that for some of the animals.

    As well as classifying species according to their extinction risk, the Red List provides information on species range, population trends, main habitats, major threats and conservation measures, both already in place, and those needed. It allows better insight than ever before into the processes driving extinction.

    The 2000 Red List provides the basic knowledge about the status of biodiversity that can be used by conservation planners and decision-makers around the world to establish priorities and take the necessary action.

    The 2000 IUCN Red List has been produced for the first time on CD-ROM and is searchable on its own website at The Analysis is published as a booklet.

    A Closer Look at the Trends>>

    For more information:
    IUCN Species Survival Commission
    Tel: +41 22 9990001
    Mobile: +41 (0)79 477 2122 or +41 (0)79 477 2121
    Fax +41 22 9990015

    IUCN Red List Programme Office:
    Tel: +44-1223-277966
    Fax +44-1223-277845

    About IUCN
    IUCN - The World Conservation Union was founded in 1948 and brings together 77 states, 112 government agencies, 735 NGOs, 35 affiliates, and some 10,000 scientists and experts from 181 countries in a unique world-wide partnership. Its mission is to influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to conserve the integrity and diversity of nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable. Within the framework of global conventions IUCN has helped over 75 countries to prepare and implement national conservation and biodiversity strategies. IUCN has approximately 1000 staff, most of whom are located in its 42 regional and country offices while 100 work at its Headquarters in Gland, Switzerland.