Release of the 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

Sunday 21 December, 2008

In October the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released its annual Red List, the most comprehensive global assessment of the world’s endangered species.

Striped-faced dunnart (Sminthopsis macroura) is also under threat. Photo Jiri Lochman/Lochman Transparencies.

Striped-faced dunnart (Sminthopsis macroura) is also under threat. Photo Jiri Lochman/Lochman Transparencies.

This year’s Red List shows that at least 1,141 of the world’s 5,487 mammals – about 20% – are threatened with extinction. This isn’t the full story, though. A further 836 mammals are listed as ‘data deficient’, which means that not enough information could be gathered about them; the strong possibility is that at least some of these animals are also under threat.

Mammalogist Jan Schipper of Conservation International estimates the real number of threatened mammals could be as high as 36%.

On a scale from Extinct to Least Concern, the IUCN counts species in the Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable categories as ‘threatened’.

Edgbaston goby (Chlamydogobius squamigenus) is Critically Endangered, Edgbaston Reserve, Qld. Photo Guntha Schmida/Lochman Transparencies.

Edgbaston goby (Chlamydogobius squamigenus) is Critically Endangered, Edgbaston Reserve, Qld. Photo Guntha Schmida/Lochman Transparencies.

In Australia, a total of 788 animals and plants are listed as threatened on the Red List. The Australian Government’s own list, which is more comprehensive, includes 1600 threatened species. Among those listed as Critically Endangered are the red-fin blue-eye and the Edgbaston goby, two fish which only exist at Edgbaston Reserve. Bush Heritage’s purchase of Edgbaston Reserve last year means that these fish now live in a protected environment, and their odds of survival are much higher.

According to Nicola Markus, Bush Heritage’s Chief Conservation Officer, ‘Australia’s track record of mammal losses is awful but hardly surprising. The majority of species on this list are small mammals that are falling victim to the damage caused by feral cats and foxes and uncontrolled pastoralism over more than two-thirds of the continent.’

The northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus), Yourka Reserve, Qld. Photo Jiri Lochman/ Lochman Transparencies.

The northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus), Yourka Reserve, Qld. Photo Jiri Lochman/ Lochman Transparencies.

Populations of small mammals on Bush Heritage reserves – such as the numbat, bilby, burrowing bettong and western barred bandicoot, found at Charles Darwin Reserve, and the kowari, found at Cravens Peak Reserve, all listed as Threatened on the Red List – are benefiting from the conservation measures we put in place. Almost inevitably, removal of stock is one of the first activities we undertake, and fencing and other measures to keep feral animals at bay are also a priority.

Happily, the Red List does show that ‘conservation can hold species back from the brink of extinction, with 5% of currently threatened mammals showing signs of recovery in the wild’, according to the report.

So what does conservation mean in this context? It’s about preserving the integrity of ecosystems, and ensuring that the plants and animals that exist within them are able to thrive without threat from development, pests or invasive weeds, and uncontrolled bushfires.

According to the IUCN’s Penelope Figgis, a former Bush Heritage director, ‘The single biggest contribution that Australia can make to global conservation efforts, including meeting the [UN’s] Convention on Biodiversity targets, is to maximise protection of our unique diversity of plants, animals and ecosystems.’

It’s clear that Bush Heritage’s mission to protect land and waterways of high conservation value can and does work to save threatened species – and it’s more imperative than ever that we act now.

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