Extinction threat to Mediterranean mammals

Posted: 15 September 2009

The latest assessment of Mediterranean mammals shows that one in six is threatened with extinction, as their natural habitat continues to shrink.

The study,by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), assesses the status of 320 mammals in the region, except whales and dolphins. It finds three per cent are Critically Endangered, five per cent are Endangered and eight per cent are Vulnerable.

A further eight per cent are Near Threatened, and three per cent are Extinct or Regionally Extinct. This is the first time all Mediterranean mammals have been assessed for the IUCN Red List.

"The number one threat is habitat destruction, which affects 90 percent of the threatened species," says IUCN's Annabelle Cuttelod, co-author of the report. "We need international action to protect key areas and preserve natural habitats to ensure we don't lose the rich biodiversity in this area."

Mediterranean monk seal
Mediterranean monk seal
Mediterranean monk seal - a critivcally endangered species. Photo © Zoea/CENEAM-MMA
Rodents, bats, shrews, hedgehogs and moles, which make up the majority of Mediterranean mammals, are finding it increasingly hard to survive due to loss and degradation of their habitat from agriculture, pollution, climate change and urbanization, the study shows.

Disappearing deer

Large herbivores, such as deer, carnivores, and rabbits and hares are particularly threatened. Eight species from these groups have already gone extinct in the Mediterranean region, including the Mesopotamian Fallow Deer (Dama mesopotamica) and the Common Hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibious).

The Mediterranean Monk Seal (Monachus monachus) and the Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus) are both Critically Endangered. The IUCN World Conservation Congress, held in Barcelona last October, called for international action to preserve their natural habitats.

Agriculture affects 65 per cent of threatened mammals, hunting and trapping 60 per cent, and invasive species 50 per cent. Overall, more than one-quarter (27 perc ent) of Mediterranean mammals have declining populations, 31 per cent are stable, while for a further 40 per cent the population trend is unknown. Only three per cent of species populations are increasing, often due to conservation action, according to the study.

Critically Endangered Iberian Lynx. Photo: IUCN/P. Jackson
Critically Endangered Iberian Lynx. Photo: IUCN/P. Jackson
The Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus) is the world's most threatened felid species. It is endemic to Spain and Portugal, and currently categorised by IUCN as Critically Endangered(CR) as a result of the fragmentation of its natural habitat by agricultural and industrial development. © IUCN/P. Jackson
Mammal biodiversity is greatest in mountainous parts of the region, with particularly high concentrations of threatened species found in the mountains of Turkey, the Levant, and north-west Africa. Although the Sahara has relatively low species richness, a high proportion of Saharan species are threatened.

Unique species

Of the 49 threatened mammal species, 20 are unique to the region and occur nowhere else in the world, highlighting the responsibility that Mediterranean countries have to protect the entire global populations of these species.

"To ensure the survival of large herbivore and carnivore mammals in the Mediterranean, we have to restore habitats and food chains," says Helen Temple, co-author of the study. "We need to encourage people to accept large predators, improve protected areas management and better enforce laws regarding hunting practices."

Read the full report here