Colors Of A Cause: Red List Of Threatened Species

Today, the most comprehensive assessment of the world’s mammals, the 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, was revealed at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona.

The IUCN rates species based on a number of factors, and assigns them into these categories: least concern, near threatened, vulnerable, endangered, critically endangered, extinct in the wild and extinct.

The new study to assess the world’s mammals shows at least 1,141 of the 5,487 mammals on Earth are known to be threatened with extinction. At least 76 mammals have become extinct since 1500. But the results also show conservation can bring species back from the brink of extinction, with five percent of currently threatened mammals showing signs of recovery in the wild.

Photo © Mathieu Ourioux.


The Fishing Cat ( Prionailurus viverrinus ) has changed category from Vulnerable to Endangered because of the severe decline throughout much of its Asian range over the last decade. It is a medium sized cat and a skilful swimmer, found mainly in wetland habitats such as swamps, oxbow lakes, reed beds, tidal creeks and mangrove areas. Over 45 per cent of protected wetlands in Southeast Asia are considered threatened, including those that are home to this species. Sites like the estuaries of the Karnataka coast (Southwestern India), and the deltas of the Irrawaddy, Indus, Mekong and Red rivers. Threats to the Fishing Cat include human settlement, draining of its habitat for agriculture, pollution, excessive hunting, wood-cutting and over-fishing. In addition, clearance of coastal mangroves over the past decade has been rapid. The depletion of fish stocks from over-fishing is likely to be a significant threat to this species which relies heavily on fish for its survival.

“Within our lifetime hundreds of species could be lost as a result of our own actions, a frightening sign of what is happening to the ecosystems where they live,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN Director General. “We must now set clear targets for the future to reverse this trend to ensure that our enduring legacy is not to wipe out many of our closest relatives.”

Photo © Simon Goodman


The Caspian Seal ( Pusa caspica ) has moved from Vulnerable to Endangered. It occurs throughout the Caspian Sea, using the winter ice sheets as a surface on which to give birth and nurse pups. Its population has declined by 90 percent over the last 100 years due to unsustainable levels of commercial hunting, habitat degradation and pollution; it is still decreasing. Since 2005 the number of pups born has plummeted by a catastrophic 60 percent to just 6,000-7,000. A low survival rate among pups has led researchers to fear there are barely enough breeding females to keep the population viable.

“The reality is that the number of threatened mammals could be as high as 36 percent,” says Jan Schipper, of Conservation International and lead author in a forthcoming article in Science. “This indicates that conservation action backed by research is a clear priority for the future, not only to improve the data so that we can evaluate threats to these poorly known species, but to investigate means to recover threatened species and populations.”

Photo © Dean E. Biggins.


The Black-footed Ferret ( Mustela nigripes ) from North America is no longer Extinct in the Wild after a massive effort to reintroduce captive animals back to parts of its range. The species is highly dependent on prairie dogs as its food-source; the widespread extermination of prairie dogs throughout the 20th century, and the spread of disease, caused massive declines in the Black-footed Ferret population. In 1985, the species was on the verge of extinction when its last free-ranging population collapsed from an outbreak of canine distemper. Once widespread in central North America, it now exists only in reintroduced populations and is currently listed as Endangered. From 1991 to 2008, a captive breeding programme by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service brought the Black-footed Ferret back to Mexico and eight western states in the US. At present, it is considered self-sustaining at only three locations; two in South Dakota and one in Wyoming.

Habitat loss and degradation affect 40 percent of the world’s mammals. It is most extreme in Central and South America, West, East and Central Africa, Madagascar, and in South and Southeast Asia. Over harvesting is wiping out larger mammals, especially in Southeast Asia, but also in parts of Africa and South America.

Photo © F. Rovero


The Grey-Faced Sengi ( Rhynchocyon udzungwensis ) is a newly discovered species of elephant-shrew from Tanzania. The species is listed as Vulnerable because it is known from only two areas, which are prone to fires caused by drought and by humans from the expanding settlements nearby. It belongs to a group of mammals called Afrotheria that evolved in Africa over 100 million years ago and whose relatives include elephants, sea cows, and the Aardvark. Elephant-shrews get their name because of their long, flexible snouts rather than their genetic relatives. The Grey-faced Sengi was only described in 2008 after being caught on film in 2005 in the remote Ndundulu Forest in Tanzania’s Udzungwa Mountains. It is the first new species of giant elephant-shrew to be discovered in more than 126 years and is over 25 per cent larger than any other known sengi. A rapid loss of habitat could quickly push this species into a higher threat category. Although it is found within protected areas, increased human population pressure around the forest edges could have a negative effect on this species. The predicted effects of global climate change will likely further reduce its already fragmented habitat.

But it is not all bad news. The assessment of the world’s mammals shows that species can recover with concerted conservation efforts. The Black-footed Ferret (Mustela nigripes) moved from Extinct in the Wild to Endangered after a successful reintroduction by the US Fish and Wildlife Service into eight western states and Mexico from 1991-2008. Similarly, the Wild Horse (Equus ferus) moved from Extinct in the Wild in 1996 to Critically Endangered this year after successful reintroductions started in Mongolia in the early 1990s.

Photo © Pavel German


The Fergusson Island Striped Possum ( Dactylopsila tatei ) is found on only one of the D’Entrecasteaux Islands (Fergusson Island), Papua New Guinea. The species is not well known, but it is thought to be restricted to primary tropical moist forest areas between 600 and 1,000 m altitude. Its presumed restricted range and reliance on a habitat that is under threat from expanding agriculture has resulted in this possum being assessed as Endangered. More research is needed to gather data to further refine the status of this species.

The African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) moved from Vulnerable to Near Threatened, although its status varies considerably across its range. The move reflects the recent and ongoing population increases in major populations in southern and eastern Africa. These increases are big enough to outweigh any decreases that may be taking place elsewhere.

Photo © Jean-Christophe


Grevy’s Zebra ( Equus grevyi ) is confined to the Horn of Africa, specifically Ethiopia and Kenya. This Endangered zebra has undergone one of the most substantial range reductions of any African mammal. It is estimated to have declined by more than 50% over the past 18 years, and the current population has approximately 750 adult animals. The main reasons for the decline of this species are reduction of available water sources (for example, in the Ewaso Ng’iro River over-abstraction of water for irrigation schemes has reduced dry season river flow by 90% over the past three decades); habitat degradation due to overgrazing by domestic livestock, which are also out-competing Grevy’s Zebra for access to food; hunting; and disease (for example, an outbreak of anthrax in the Wamba area of southern Samburu, Kenya resulted in the death of more than 50 animals).

“The longer we wait, the more expensive it will be to prevent future extinctions,” says Dr Jane Smart, Head of IUCN’s Species Programme. “We now know what species are threatened, what the threats are and where – we have no more excuses to watch from the sidelines.”

More Colors from Threatened Species

Photo © Francisco Marquez
The Iberian Lynx ( Lynx pardinus ) has a total population of only 84–143 adults, restricted to areas of Spain and Portugal, qualifying the species as Critically Endangered. The continued decline in the Lynx’s population is due in part to the severe depletion of its primary prey, the European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus). The introduction of Myxomatosis to control rabbits in the 1950s decimated the lynx’s main food source and caused the population to crash. When rabbit recovery seemed possible, viral haemorrhagic pneumonia then struck. In an attempt to maintain Iberian Lynx numbers, conservationists have bred and released rabbits, while the wild population has developed a natural immunity to Myxomatosis. Additional threats to the Iberian Lynx include injuries from snares set for rabbits and accidental deaths from speeding vehicles on the expanding road network. Disease and illegal shooting also threaten the population. The lynx is confined to scattered groups in the southwestern Iberian peninsula where its habitat has been severely fragmented by infrastructure improvement, urban and resort development as well as pine and Eucalyptus plantations.


Photo © David Hewett


The Tasmanian Devil ( Sarcophilus harrisii ) is now a threatened species, moving from Least Concern to Endangered. The size of a small dog and found only on the Australian island state of Tasmania, the devil is the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world. The global population of this species has declined by more than 60 percent over the last 10 years due to a fatal infectious cancer. Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD), is spread amongst Tasmanian Devils through biting and from sharing the same food. Once infected, the animal develops tumours around the mouth, which interferes with feeding and eventually leads to death by starvation.

Photo © Dave Dick


The Slender-billed Vulture ( Gyps tenuirostris ) was once a common species, but in Southeast Asia it declined through the latter half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century; it is now listed as Critically Endangered. A recent survey recorded small numbers in Myanmar; very sharp declines have been noted in the last few years in India and Nepal; it is now thought to be extinct in Thailand and Malaysia, and the only recent Southeast Asian records are from Cambodia and southern Laos. By mid-2000, Gyps vultures were being found dead and dying in Nepal and India, and major declines and local extirpations were reported. There is strong evidence that Gyps vultures are fatally susceptible to veterinary painkillers containing Diclofenac. East of India, the near-total disappearance of the species pre-dated the present crisis, and probably results from the rarity there of large wild mammals and human consumption of deceased livestock.

Photo © Anders Rhodin


The Radiated Tortoise ( Astrochelys radiata ) is endemic to Madagascar and in 2008 its Red List status moved from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered. Historically this species has been quite abundant, often being found along roadways and has served as symbol of Madagascar’s south. However, this is no longer the case; its range has contracted by one fifth over the last 25 years and the population is declining. Wild Radiated Tortoises are collected for the international pet trade, and also for local use (food and pets), which is of greater concern for the species; in 2003 it was estimated that up to 45,000 adult Radiated Tortoises are harvested each year and harvest levels may have increased since then. Habitat loss due to agricultural expansion and invasive plant species also threaten the remaining wild population.

Photo © Wayne Van Devender


Holdridge’s Toad ( Incilius holdridgei ) is a rainforest amphibian species from Costa Rica that was declared Extinct in 2008. In spite of regular and extensive surveys, most recently in 2007, the species has not been seen since 1986. It is thought that this species may be one of the more recent victims of chitridiomycosis, a fungal disease which has caused widespread declines in amphibians around the world.

Photo © Neil Cumberlidge


The Tree Hole Crab ( Globonautes macropus ) was originally known from a single specimen collected in Liberia in 1898, and was not collected again for 90 years until it was rediscovered in 1988. It is endemic to the Upper Guinea rainforests of Liberia and Guinea, and may also occur in the forested parts of Sierra Leone which lie between these two countries. Before 1989, the population was estimated to be about 5-10 crabs per km of closed canopy rainforest, but this may well be declining as deforestation progresses. This Endangered crab appears to rely on rainwater-filled natural holes in suitably-sized trees at a height of 1-2 m above the ground. Loss and degradation of rainforest habitat is ongoing due to the increasing human population, deforestation, regional wars, and political instability.

More Info: and IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.

Text quoted from ICUN Red List press release.

Images from IUCN Gallery 2008; rights credited.

Author: evad
David Sommers has been loving color as COLOURlovers' Blog Editor-in-Chief for the past two years. When he's not neck deep in a rainbow he's loving other things with The Post Family (, a Chicago-based art blog, artist collective & gallery.