The Independent (UK)  [Printer-friendly version]
May 1, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: More than 26,000 species have been added to
the famous "red list" of animals and plants that face serious threat
of extinction. The modern economy, which demands continuous growth,
is shredding the biosphere on which all life depends. When will
we realize that an economy premised on endless growth is impossible
to sustain on a finite planet?]

by Barrie Clement

More than 26,000 species of animals, birds, plants and fish will this
week be added to the list of those in serious danger of extinction.
Thousands of species including the common hippopotamus are to be added
or moved up the so-called "red list" drawn up by The World
Conservation Union (IUCN).

The alarming study by the union, one of the most authoritative
pictures of world flora and fauna, will make clear that global warming
and human activity is responsible.

The report will confirm that the common skate, once abundant around
Britain, has been virtually wiped out. The fish is still stocked by
some supermarkets and fishmongers, but there is increasing pressure on
them to ban it in the same way that cod has been removed from many
retailers' shelves.

Sharks, skates and rays are all thought to be vulnerable. Around 20
per cent of sharks are in increasing danger of extinction, the study
says. The giant devil ray, similar to a manta ray, is often
accidentally caught in nets intended for tuna and other fish.

David Sims, senior research fellow at the Marine Biological
Association Laboratory at Plymouth, said that one of the main problems
with sharks and rays was that they bore live young so that they
reproduce more slowly. "Global fisheries are having a massive effect
on population. Some of the nets they use could engulf St Paul's
Cathedral," he said.

The new research by the IUCN is the result of two years' work by
scientists all over the world and adds to the picture revealed in the
union's last report in 2004 which said that 15,589 species faced
extinction -- 7,266 animals and 8,323 plants and lichens.

While the latest analysis confirms the plight of the polar bear -
because climate change threatens its Arctic habitat -- more surprising
was the threat to the common hippo. Researchers at the IUCN found that
biggest problem was posed by poachers killing the creatures for the
ivory in their teeth.

One of the creatures predicted to die out is the Yangtze river dolphin
or Baiji. It is thought that just 30 remain and that the chances of
breeding-age pairs meeting is extremely low.

Chris Butler-Stroud of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society,
said that the animal was in effect extinct.

The endangered species in the 2004 report included one- third of
amphibians and half of all freshwater turtles. At least 15 species had
died out over the previous two decades and another 12 survived only in

Many more, however, are thought to have become extinct without having
been recorded. A conservative approach to declaring species lost means
that others, which are not yet formally classed as extinct, have
probably died out.

Among 3,330 species newly assessed as threatened in 2004 included the
fabulous green sphinx moth, from the Hawaiian island of Kaua'i, and
the African begonia from Cameroon. Most of the new additions in 2004
were amphibians, joining the red list after the Global Amphibian
Assessment that revealed one in three species of frog, toad, newt and
salamander were under threat.

The Jambato toad from Ecuador, the golden toad from Costa Rica and the
kama'o bird from Hawaii were among the species declared extinct over
the past two decades.

Britain had nine critically endangered species -- the category at
greatest risk -- including the slender-billed curlew and the sociable
lapwing (both rare visitors here) and Spengler's freshwater mussel.
Another 49 species are classed as endangered or vulnerable, including
the Atlantic cod and the Scottish wildcat.

Between 1.6 million and 1.9 million species are known to science, but
the total is usually estimated at between 10 million and 30 million -
and many of those described and classified are poorly understood.