Endangered treasures

Posted: 6 May 2008

Of the total of 41,415 species of plants and animals on the IUCN Red List, 16,306 of them are threatened with extinction, listed as critically endangered, endangered or threatened. Here are some of the less well known species at risk:

Birds

    Black-browed Albatross. Photo: Tony Palliser
    Black-browed Albatross. Photo: Tony Palliser
    Black-browed Albatross (Thalassarche melanophrys)© Tony Palliser
  • Black-browed Albatross (Thalassarche melanophrys) moved from Vulnerable in 2001 to Endangered in 2003. All 21 species of albatross are now identified as globally under threat (compared to just three in 1996 and 16 in 2000). All are undergoing long-term declines, with significant numbers drowning after being caught accidentally on baited hooks set by longline fisheries. BirdLife International's 'Save the Albatross' campaign is trying to reduce the accidental bycatch of seabirds by encouraging longline fisheries to adopt appropriate mitigation measures.

Molluscs

    <em>Bulimulus ochsneri</em>© Christine Parent
    Bulimulus ochsneri© Christine Parent
    Bulimulus ochsneri© Christine Parent
  • Bulimulus ochsneri is one of the many threatened terrestrial snails from the Galapagos Islands. Listed as Critically Endangered, Bulimulus ochsneri is endemic to Santa Cruz. The range of suitable habitat for land snails on Santa Cruz Island has declined because of human activities (farming, road and house construction) and destruction or alteration by introduced species.

Plants

    St Helena Olive (<em>Nesiota elliptica</em>) © Rebecca Cairns-Wicks
    St Helena Olive (Nesiota elliptica) © Rebecca Cairns-Wicks
    St Helena Olive (Nesiota elliptica)© Rebecca Cairns-Wicks
  • St Helena olive (Nesiota elliptica). Endemic to Saint Helena, this symbolic species is now sadly Extinct. The last known tree surviving in the wild died in 1994 and the only known plant still in cultivation died in November 2003. No other live material (plants, seeds or tissues) remain in local or international collections. The extinction of this plant has been attributed to habitat loss through felling for timber and to make way for plantations.
    Wood's Cycad (<em>Encephalartos woodii</em>) © John S. Donaldson
    Wood's Cycad (Encephalartos woodii) © John S. Donaldson
    Wood's Cycad (Encephalartos woodii)© John S. Donaldson
  • Wood’s Cycad (Encephalartos woodii) is Extinct in the Wild. Only a single plant of this species was ever found. Its extinction may have been a natural event, although the final end of the wild population may have been hastened by over-exploitation for medicinal purposes by local people. In 1916 the last remaining stem was removed for cultivation in botanical gardens. There is no likelihood of ever reintroducing the species back into the wild as there are only male plants in existence, and the risk of theft would be too great.

  • Maui Hesperomannia (Hesperomannia arbuscula), listed as Critically Endangered, is a small shrubby tree known only from the Hawaiian Islands of Maui and Oahu.
    Maui Hesperomannia (<em>Hesperomannia arbuscula</em>)© Vickie L. Caraway
    Maui Hesperomannia (Hesperomannia arbuscula)© Vickie L. Caraway
    Maui Hesperomannia (Hesperomannia arbuscula)© Vickie L. Caraway
    There has been an observed population decline of 25-50 per cent over the last three years and the number of known individuals is less than 25. Main threats to the species are habitat degradation by pigs, competition with alien plant species (prickly Florida blackberry, Christmas berry, Koster's curse and strawberry guava), predation by rats, and from trampling or collecting by humans

Land mammal

  • Riverine Rabbit (Bunolagus monticularis) is assessed as Critically Endangered.
    Riverine Rabbit (<em>Bunolagus monticularis</em>) © Andrew G. Duthie
    Riverine Rabbit (Bunolagus monticularis) © Andrew G. Duthie
    Riverine Rabbit (Bunolagus monticularis)© Andrew G. Duthie
    The species is found only in the central Karoo region of South Africa and the current population is estimated to be fewer than 250 breeding pairs. With ongoing habitat loss and fragmentation, and direct threats from trapping, feral cats and dogs, and hunting pressure, the population decline is not expected to stop in the near future.

Primates

    Yellow-breasted Capuchin. © Russell Mittermeier
    Yellow-breasted Capuchin. © Russell Mittermeier
    Yellow-breasted Capuchin (Cebus xanthosternos) © Russell Mittermeier
  • Yellow-breasted Capuchin (Cebus xanthosternos) is a Critically Endangered Neotropical monkey found in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest region. It has a very restricted and highly fragmented range. The species is also heavily hunted as bushmeat and for use as pets.

  • Golden Lion Tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia) is endemic to Brazil.
    Golden Lion Tamarin (<em>Leontopithecus rosalia</em>) © Juan Pratginests/WWF-Brasil
    Golden Lion Tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia) © Juan Pratginestos/WWF-Brasil
    Golden Lion Tamarin (Leontopithecus rosalia)© Juan Pratginestós/WWF-Brasil
    The species moved from Critically Endangered down to Endangered after nearly 30 years of conservation efforts resulted in a population increase. There are now estimated to be more than 1,000 individuals. There is little room for further expansion of the wild population, however, considering the extreme fragmentation and reduced forest cover within its range. Current and future conservation efforts are tackling this problem with reforestation and the establishment of habitat corridors.

Sea mammals

  • Short-beaked Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis).
    Short-beaked Common Dolphin (<em>Delphinus delphis</em>). © Giovanni Bearzi
    Short-beaked Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis). © Giovanni Bearzi
    Short-beaked Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis)© Giovanni Bearzi
    Although the global population is still considered to be Least Concern, the Mediterranean subpopulation of Delphinus delphis has declined by more than 50 per cent over the last 30-45 years and is assessed as Endangered. There has been a reduction in the availability of dolphin prey in the Mediterranean through a combination of environmental changes, overfishing and habitat degradation. Competition with fisheries and bycatch directly threaten the subpopulation, while high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in Mediterranean dolphins, compared to levels in dolphins from other areas, may cause immune suppression and reproductive impairment.

  • Gray Whale (Eschrichtius robustus).
    Gray Whale. © David W. Weller
    Gray Whale. © David W. Weller
    Gray Whale (Eschrichtius robustus).© David W. Weller
    The Northwest Pacific (Asia) gray whale stock is assessed as Critically Endangered on the basis that it is geographically distinct, and is thought to have less than 50 reproductive individuals. This subpopulation was hunted to near extinction and remains severely depleted. The potential impacts of industrial activity throughout the subpopulation’s known range are poorly understood.

Fish

  • Mekong Giant Catfish (Pangasianodon gigas) is Critically Endangered.
    Mekong Giant Catfish (Pangasianodon gigas) © Zeb S. Hogan
    Mekong Giant Catfish (Pangasianodon gigas) © Zeb S. Hogan
    Mekong Giant Catfish (Pangasianodon gigas)© Zeb S. Hogan
    This species is one of the world's largest freshwater fish, found only in the lower Mekong River Basin. The population has declined by more than 80 per cent over the last 13 years, mainly through over-exploitation and habitat loss and degradation. Increasing siltation of the river through past deforestation practices and obstruction of migratory routes through the construction of dams in the region may also have a negative impact on fish abundance in the river.