Science News

Mammal numbers in spiraling decline

By Joshua S Hill Oct 6, 2008, 21:01 GMT

Mammal numbers in spiraling decline

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.

Researchers of a new study have announced that from 25% to 36% of mammals may be in danger of extinction. The study, to be published in the October 10 issue of Science, also accompanies an unveiling of a “Red List” of endangered mammal species, to be presented at the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, Spain.

"It is frightening that after millions and millions of years of evolution that have given rise to the biodiversity of mammals we are perched on a crisis where 25 percent of species are threatened with being lost forever," said Andrew Smith, an Arizona State University professor who played a key role in the mammalian assessment.

The Global Mammal Assessment was put together by more than 1,800 scientists located in more than 130 countries across the planet. Gathered together under the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the study was made possible by the volunteer help of IUCN Species Survival Commission's specialist groups and collaborations between top institutions and universities, including Arizona State University, Texas A&M University, University of Virginia, Conservation International, Sapienza Università di Roma and the Zoological Society of London.

"Mammals are important because they play key roles in ecosystems and provide important benefits to humans," Smith explained. "If you lose a mammal, you often are in danger of losing many other species."

The Wild Horse (Equus ferus) previously was listed as Extinct in the Wild, but as a result of ongoing reintroduction efforts it is now showing signs of improvement and has moved down a category to Critically Endangered.

The Wild Horse (Equus ferus) previously was listed as Extinct in the Wild, but as a result of ongoing reintroduction efforts it is now showing signs of improvement and has moved down a category to Critically Endangered.

Within the study, entitled "The Status of the World's Land and Marine Mammals: Diversity, Threat, and Knowledge", the authors show that at least 1,141 of the 5,487 known mammals on Earth are threatened with extinction. Furthermore, the report goes on to list at least 76 mammals that have become extinct since 1500, and adding that another 836 mammals are “data deficient”, making the end total possibly much worse.

"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," said Julia Marton-Lefevre, IUCN director general in announcing the Red List. "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."

Examples of the most highly threatened species of mammals

Vancouver Island marmot (Marmota vancouverensis): 35 animals surviving in the wild, only on Vancouver Island, Canada.

Hainan gibbon (Nomascus hainanus): Around 20 animals in the wild, only on Hainan Island, China.

Kouprey (Bos sauveli): Formerly in mainland south-east Asia, now possibly extinct.

Javan rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus): An estimated 40 to 60 animals on the western tip of Java in Ujung Kulon National Park, and a smaller population in the Cat Tien National Park of Vietnam, with around six individuals remaining.

Baiji or Chinese river dolphin (Lipotes vexillifer): Probably the most threatened cetacean in the world, not sighted since 2002.

Red wolf (Canis rufus): Less than 50 mature individuals survive, only in a reintroduced population in North Carolina, US.

Little earth hutia (Mesocapromys sanfelipensis): A rodent known only from Cuba, where it has not been seen in nearly 40 years.

Santa Catarina's guinea pig (Cavia intermedia): No more than 60 individuals, only in Serra do Tabuleiro State Park on Moleques Island do Sul, Brazil.

Wild horse (Equus ferus): fewer than 50 mature individuals remain in the wild.

Gilbert's potoroo (Potorous gilberti): between 30 and 40 individuals in western Australia.

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