Press release | 17 Nov, 2014

Global appetite for resources pushing new species to the brink – IUCN Red List

Pacific Bluefin Tuna, Chinese Pufferfish, American Eel, Chinese Cobra and an Australian butterfly are threatened with extinction

Fishing, logging, mining, agriculture and other activities to satisfy our growing appetite for resources are threatening the survival of the Pacific Bluefin Tuna, Chinese Pufferfish, American Eel and Chinese Cobra, while the destruction of habitat has caused the extinction of a Malaysian mollusc and the world’s largest known earwig, and threatens the survival of many other species – according to the latest update of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ released today at the IUCN World Parks Congress taking place in Sydney, Australia.

The IUCN Red List, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, now includes 76,199 assessed species, of which 22,413 are threatened with extinction. As nearly half of the newly assessed species occur within protected areas, IUCN calls for better management of these places to stop further biodiversity decline.

“Each update of the IUCN Red List makes us realize that our planet is constantly losing its incredible diversity of life, largely due to our destructive actions to satisfy our growing appetite for resources,” says IUCN Director General Julia Marton-Lefèvre. “But we have scientific evidence that protected areas can play a central role in reversing this trend. Experts warn that threatened species poorly represented in protected areas are declining twice as fast as those which are well represented. Our responsibility is to increase the number of protected areas and ensure that they are effectively managed so that they can contribute to saving our planet’s biodiversity.”

With today’s update, the Pacific Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus orientalis) has moved from the Least Concern category to Vulnerable, which means that it is now threatened with extinction. The species is extensively targeted by the fishing industry for the sushi and sashimi markets predominantly in Asia. Most of the fish caught are juveniles which have not yet had a chance to reproduce and the population is estimated to have declined by 19 to 33% over the past 22 years.

Existing marine protected areas do not provide sufficient protection for the species. The expansion of marine protected areas, within 200 miles of the coast and incorporating breeding areas, could help conserve the species, according to IUCN experts.

“The Pacific Bluefin Tuna market value continues to rise,” says Bruce Collette, Chair, IUCN Species Survival CommissionTuna and Billfish Specialist Group. “Unless fisheries implement the conservation and management measures developed for the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, including a reduction in the catches of juvenile fish, we cannot expect its status to improve in the short term.”

The Chinese Pufferfish (Takifugu chinensis) has entered the IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered. Its global population is estimated to have declined by 99.99% over the past 40 years due to overexploitation. A popular food fish in Japan, it is among the top four fugu species consumed as sashimi. One of the world’s most poisonous fish, fugu need to be expertly prepared before consumption. The Chinese Pufferfish occurs in several marine protected areas throughout the coastal waters of China. Conservation measures, such as the creation of marine protected areas which are annually closed to trawling, have been implemented. However, harvest still needs to be urgently controlled to prevent the species’ extinction, say IUCN experts.

The American Eel (Anguilla rostrata), listed as Endangered is threatened by barriers to migration; climate change; parasites; pollution; habitat loss and commercial harvest. Due to the decline of the Japanese Eel (Anguilla japonica), also listed as Endangered, the intensive eel farming industry in East Asia is seeking to replenish seed stock with other species, such as the American Eel. This has led to increased reports of poaching of the American Eel in the United States. Whilst the combination of these threats is placing pressure on the species, positive conservation action could result in an improvement in its status.

The Chinese Cobra (Naja atra) has been newly assessed as Vulnerable. Its population has declined by 30 to 50% over the past 20 years. Chinese Cobras are found in south-eastern China, Taiwan, northern Viet Nam and Lao PDR, and are among the top animal species exported from mainland China to Hong Kong for the food market. Chinese Cobras are found in protected areas such as Ailaoshan Nature Reserve, Daweishan Nature Reserve (Yunnan) and Kenting National Park (Taiwan). Although international trade in the species is regulated, there is an urgent need to strengthen national conservation initiatives to ensure its survival.

“The growing food market is putting unsustainable pressure on these and other species,” says Jane Smart, Global Director of IUCN’s Biodiversity Group. “We urgently need to impose strict limits on harvesting and take appropriate measures to protect habitats.”

This Red List update also highlights several species that have been impacted by habitat destruction, including all 66 threatened chameleon species, despite some of these species occurring within protected areas. The Giant East Usambara Blade-horned Chameleon, (Kinyongia matschiei), endemic to the East Usambara mountains of Tanzania, has been listed as Endangered. Like many other chameleons, this species uses colour for communication. It also darkens when stressed and wraps its tail around branches to remain secure. Found in the Amani Nature Reserve, a protected area, this reptile is threatened by the clearance of forests for agriculture, charcoal production and extraction of timber.

The Black Grass-dart Butterfly (Ocybadistes knightorum) has entered the IUCN Red List as Endangered. Found only in the northern New South Wales coastal region of Australia, the species is threatened primarily due to the invasion of introduced weeds and coastal development destroying its habitat. A significant proportion of its habitat exists in protected areas such as Bongil Bongil National Park and Gaagal Wonggan (South Beach) National Park, and the effective management of these areas could play an important role in securing the species’ future. The threat from weed invasion is being managed in some reserves where key habitat patches have responded well to weeding, resulting in successful habitat rehabilitation.

Two species have been declared Extinct due to habitat destruction. Plectostoma sciaphilum, a snail known from a single limestone hill in Peninsular Malaysia is now listed as Extinct as a result of the hill being entirely destroyed by limestone quarrying by a large company. The future of several other species in the region is uncertain for similar reasons. Whilst some mining companies are starting to take the necessary steps to reduce impact, IUCN is urging stronger commitment to prevent further extinctions.

The St Helena Giant Earwig (Labidura herculeana) – the world’s largest known earwig attaining a length of up to 80 mm – has also gone extinct. Previously found in Horse Point Plain, a protected area on St Helena Island, the last confirmed live adult of this insect was seen in May 1967. Since the early 1960s, its habitat has been degraded by the removal of nearly all shelter-providing surface stones for construction purposes. Increased predator pressures from mice, rats and invasive predatory invertebrates also contributed to the earwig’s extinction.

“These recent extinctions could have been avoided through better habitat protection,” says Simon Stuart, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission. “Today’s update also highlights two amphibian species which have improved in status thanks to successful management of Colombia’s Ranita Dorada Reserve, where they occur. We need to take more responsibility for our actions to see many more successes like this one, and to have a positive impact on the health of our planet.”

 IUCN Red List Partner quotes

“Saving threatened species requires identifying and conserving the most significant sites for nature. BirdLife's Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas are used by governments worldwide to help target the designation of protected areas”, says Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife’s Head of Science.

“We are living in a world where nature is under the gun more than ever before, and we need to recognize nature doesn’t need people. People need nature. These species are important in their own right, but also are essential for our own survival because they are important cogs in the complex and delicate ecosystems that provide human beings with essential ecosystem services such as fresh water, climate regulation, disaster prevention, and many others,” says Dr Russell A. Mittermeier, Executive Vice Chair of Conservation International. “As we enter the 6th World Parks Congress in Sydney, we need to recognize that protected areas are essential for the long-term survival of endangered species, but also are fundamentally important in meeting the major challenges facing our planet, from putting society on a sustainable development path to adapting to climate change. There has never been more urgency to create, effectively manage and finance parks and protected areas than now, and we hope that there will be major commitments made at this Congress to change the scale of protection worldwide - for all the benefits that protected areas provide."

"Of particular concern is the decline of fish like the Pacific Bluefin Tuna due to overexploitation. We have seen the near extinction already of species like the Atlantic Cod due to similar poorly regulated practices. This should be a clear warning signal that we need better regulation and enforcement of marine fisheries, combined with the establishment of marine protected areas that secure important spawning areas to allow for the recovery of severely depleted stocks,” says Dr Thomas Lacher, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, Texas A&M University. “The World Parks Congress, currently taking place in Sydney, Australia, is addressing these concerns in numerous sessions and meetings, but we need broad international collaboration to make these plans a reality."

“It is so encouraging to see many plant species being added to the Red List for the first time. Species in the birch family have now been assessed, for example, showing which trees are in urgent need of conservation attention,” says Sara Oldfield, Secretary General, Botanic Gardens Conservation International. “Birches are vital components of temperate ecosystems and we cannot afford to lose any single species.”

“Once again the Red List shows the incredible importance of keeping track of species, even the ones that used to be common,” says Mary Klein, President & CEO of NatureServe. “As has been so powerfully shown this past week at the World Parks Congress and by this latest Red List update, new emerging threats continue to decimate species all across the globe. The steadfast commitment of groups such as the IUCN and NatureServe is increasingly key to bringing these challenges to light and to enabling the data-based conservation efforts that will help stem the tide.”

For more information or interviews please contact:
Ewa Magiera, IUCN Media Relations, m +61 (0) 43 40 25 278, e
Lynne Labanne, IUCN Global Species Programme, IUCN, m +41 79 527 7221, e