Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
On average, 52 species of mammals, birds and amphibians are taking a significant step toward extinction each year, a huge new analysis says. But if not for conservation efforts, the march would be even faster, researchers reported Tuesday.
Efforts to save endangered animals are making a difference, even as about 1 in 5 of the world’s backboned species — mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish — are threatened with extinction, according to a study published online in the journal Science.
The report was released as delegates from more than 190 nations meet at a United Nations conference in Nagoya, Japan, to set 20 measurable targets to combat the loss of many diverse species.
“Our results should be a timely wake-up call to governments in Nagoya,” said Stuart Butchart, a study author and global research coordinator at BirdLife International. “Biodiversity is in a desperate state. Its situation is getting worse . but our results show we can turn the situation around. We just need greater political will and resources.”
The study considered almost 26,000 species of vertebrates — animals with a backbone — whose conservation status is on the “Red List” of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. It found that about one-fifth of vertebrate species are “threatened,” meaning they are close to going extinct in the near future. That ranges from 13 percent of birds to 41 percent of amphibians.
The one-fifth number isn’t much of a surprise, but the new study is the first global audit of vertebrates, said Craig Hilton-Taylor of the IUCN, a study author.
To look for trends, the authors used a statistical measure that tracks how particular species have moved among the eight categories of the Red List — an indication of improvement or worsening of their conservation status. Because of data limitations, they focused on birds, mammals and amphibians. Their results translate to an average of 52 species moving one category closer to extinction each year.
Amphibians, which include frogs and salamanders, showed the fastest decline, with mammals second. The trend was less severe for birds, but still included creatures like the green-colored Hose’s broadbill of Malaysia and Indonesia, which has suffered declines in its forest habitat.
About 1 in 6 declines in conservation status in the study resulted in extinction, the authors said. The extinctions include the golden toad of Costa Rica and a Hawaiian forest bird called the Kamao.
To study whether conservation efforts like protecting habitat or controlling predators were helping, the authors examined cases where a species’ status improved, moving away from extinction. That was the case in 68 of the 928 reclassifications they found, almost entirely due to conservation action, the authors said. Nearly all involved mammals or birds, because they have a longer and better-funded history of conservation efforts, the authors said.
Humpback whales, for example, moved from “vulnerable” to being at low risk for extinction because of protections against commercial whaling, the authors said.
In all, the researchers calculated that the overall march toward extinction would have been some 20 percent faster if no conservation steps had been taken. But they also said the true impact is much greater than their calculations could show.
“Conservation is working, it’s just not enough” at current levels, said Ana Rodrigues of the Center for Evolutionary and Functional Ecology in Montpellier, France, a study author.
Stuart Pimm, a conservation expert at Duke University who didn’t participate in the study, agreed that the results contain good news.
“A lot of those species would have been moving a lot faster (toward extinction) if it weren’t for conservation efforts,” he said. “Conservation efforts really do work, they’re just not stemming the full extent of the losses of species. The overall trend is still downhill.”
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)