Press release | 06 Oct, 2008

IUCN Red List reveals world’s mammals in crisis

Barcelona, Spain, 6 October, 2008 (IUCN) – The most comprehensive assessment of the world’s mammals has confirmed an extinction crisis, with almost one in four at risk of disappearing forever, according to The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, revealed at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona.

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Photo: Antonio Ribas / Iberian Lynx Ex-situ Conservation Programme

The new study to assess the world’s mammals shows at least 1,141 of the 5,487 mammals on Earth are known to be threatened with extinction. At least 76 mammals have become extinct since 1500. But the results also show conservation can bring species back from the brink of extinction, with five percent of currently threatened mammals showing signs of recovery in the wild.

“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,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN Director General. “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.”

The real situation could be much worse as 836 mammals are listed as Data Deficient. With better information more species may well prove to be in danger of extinction.

“The reality is that the number of threatened mammals could be as high as 36 percent,” says Jan Schipper, of Conservation International and lead author in a forthcoming article in Science. “This indicates that conservation action backed by research is a clear priority for the future, not only to improve the data so that we can evaluate threats to these poorly known species, but to investigate means to recover threatened species and populations.”

The results show 188 mammals are in the highest threat category of Critically Endangered, including the Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus), which has a population of just 84-143 adults and has continued to decline due to a shortage of its primary prey, the European Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus).

China’s Père David’s Deer (Elaphurus davidianus), is listed as Extinct in the Wild. However, the captive and semi-captive populations have increased in recent years and it is possible that truly wild populations could be re-established soon. It may be too late, however, to save the additional 29 species that have been flagged as Critically Endangered Possibly Extinct, including Cuba’s Little Earth Hutia (Mesocapromys sanfelipensis), which has not been seen in nearly 40 years.

Nearly 450 mammals have been listed as Endangered, including the Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), which moved from Least Concern to Endangered after the global population declined by more than 60 percent in the last 10 years due to a fatal infectious facial cancer.

The Fishing Cat (Prionailurus viverrinus), found in Southeast Asia, moved from Vulnerable to Endangered due to habitat loss in wetlands. Similarly, the Caspian Seal (Pusa caspica) moved from Vulnerable to Endangered. Its population has declined by 90 percent in the last 100 years due to unsustainable hunting and habitat degradation and is still decreasing.

Habitat loss and degradation affect 40 percent of the world’s mammals. It is most extreme in Central and South America, West, East and Central Africa, Madagascar, and in South and Southeast Asia. Over harvesting is wiping out larger mammals, especially in Southeast Asia, but also in parts of Africa and South America.

The Grey-faced Sengi or Elephant-shrew (Rhynchocyon udzungwensis) is only known from two forests in the Udzungwa Mountains of Tanzania, both of which are fully protected but vulnerable to fires. The species was first described this year and has been placed in the Vulnerable category.

For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:
•    Sarah Horsley, IUCN Media Relations Officer, m +34 600 906 822, m +41 79 528 3486, e
•    Carolin Wahnbaeck, IUCN, m +34 600 919 620, m +41 79 858 87593, e
But it is not all bad news. The assessment of the world’s mammals shows that species can recover with concerted conservation efforts. The Black-footed Ferret (Mustela nigripes) moved from Extinct in the Wild to Endangered after a successful reintroduction by the US Fish and Wildlife Service into eight western states and Mexico from 1991-2008. Similarly, the Wild Horse (Equus ferus) moved from Extinct in the Wild in 1996 to Critically Endangered this year after successful reintroductions started in Mongolia in the early 1990s.

The African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) moved from Vulnerable to Near Threatened, although its status varies considerably across its range. The move reflects the recent and ongoing population increases in major populations in southern and eastern Africa. These increases are big enough to outweigh any decreases that may be taking place elsewhere.

“The longer we wait, the more expensive it will be to prevent future extinctions,” says Dr Jane Smart, Head of IUCN’s Species Programme. “We now know what species are threatened, what the threats are and where – we have no more excuses to watch from the sidelines.”

The project to assess the world’s mammals was conducted with help from more than 1,800 scientists from over 130 countries. It was made possible by the volunteer help of IUCN Species Survival Commission’s specialist groups and the collaborations between top institutions and universities, including Conservation International, Sapienza Università di Roma, Arizona State University, Texas A&M University, University of Virginia, and the Zoological Society of London.

More than mammals

Overall, the IUCN Red List now includes 44,838 species, of which 16,928 are threatened with extinction (38 percent). Of these, 3,246 are in the highest category of threat, Critically Endangered, 4,770 are Endangered and 8,912 are Vulnerable to extinction.

New groups of species have appeared on the IUCN Red List for the first time, increasing the diversity and richness of the data. Indian tarantulas, highly prized by collectors and threatened by the international pet trade, have made their first appearance on the IUCN Red List. They face habitat loss due to new roads and settlements. The Rameshwaram Parachute Spider (Poecilotheria hanumavilasumica) has been listed as Critically Endangered as its natural habitat has been almost completely destroyed.

For the first time, all 161 grouper species have been assessed, of which 20 are threatened with extinction. The Squaretail Coral Grouper (Plectropomus areolatus) from the coral reefs of the Indo-Pacific has been listed as Vulnerable. The fish is seen as a luxury live food and is typically fished unsustainably at its spawning aggregations, a major threat for many grouper species.

Amphibians are facing an extinction crisis, with 366 species added to the IUCN Red List this year. There are now 1,983 species (32 percent) either threatened or extinct. In Costa Rica, Holdridge’s Toad (Incilius holdridgei), an endemic species, moved from Critically Endangered to Extinct, as it has not been seen since 1986 despite intensive surveys.

New reptiles assessed this year include the La Palma Giant Lizard (Gallotia auaritae). Found on the Canary Island of La Palma and thought to have become extinct in the last 500 years, it was rediscovered last year and is now listed as Critically Endangered. The Cuban Crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) is another Critically Endangered reptile, moved from Endangered because of population declines caused by illicit hunting for its meat and its skin, which is used in clothing.
The Dow Jones Index of biodiversity

The IUCN Sampled Red List Index (SRLI) is a new initiative of the IUCN Red List, developed in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London. It is set to revolutionize our understanding of the conservation status of the world’s species.

The approach takes a randomized sample of species from a taxonomic group to calculate the trends in extinction risk within that group, in much the same way that an exit poll from a polling station can be used to calculate voting trends. This means that it is possible to track the fate of these species, in the same way as the Dow Jones Index tracks the movement of the financial markets.

Although species coverage on the IUCN Red List has increased in number each year, assessments have in general been restricted to the better known species groups such as birds and mammals. As a consequence, until recently the conservation status of less than four percent of the world’s described biodiversity has been known.

It can no longer be considered appropriate to base conservation decisions on such a restricted subset of species and the SRLI, which is more representative of global biodiversity, can be used to provide a broader picture.

“We are now emerging from the dark ages of conservation knowledge, when we relied on data from a highly restricted subset of species,” says Dr Jonathan Baillie, Director of Conservation Programmes at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). “In the future we will expand the scope of our species knowledge to include a far broader range of groups, thus informing and assisting policy makers in a hugely more objective and representative manner.”

Designed to broaden the types of species covered in the IUCN Red List, the SRLI uses a sample of at least 1,500 species from selected groups to show trends in extinction risk. All the world’s birds, amphibians and mammals have now been assessed for the IUCN Red List. The first results from the SRLI are revealed this year and include results for reptile species, giving us a clearer indication of the status of terrestrial vertebrates, as well as other less well-known groups such as freshwater crabs.

One of the newly assessed freshwater crab species, the Purple Marsh Crab (Afrithelphusa monodosa) from West Africa, was almost completely unknown to science until recently. The first living specimen was found in 2005 and it has been listed as Endangered because of habitat disturbance and deforestation from agriculture in all parts of the Upper Guinea forest.

In the future the SRLI will sample other lesser-known groups such as beetles, molluscs, mushrooms, lichens and plant species like mosses and liverworts, and flowering plants. Over the coming years this new approach, which could be considered the Dow Jones Index for biodiversity, will enable us to build a clearer picture of the status of all the world’s species, not just the furry and feathered.

“Over the years, the rigour of the IUCN Red List process has built it into the ‘global gold standard’ for monitoring the conservation status and trends of species and the threats they face worldwide,” says Dr Holly Dublin, Chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission (SSC). “The SSC is the largest and oldest IUCN Commission, its members are proud to contribute their knowledge and expertise to delivering this amazing conservation tool to the world."

To help IUCN in its fight against the extinction crisis, donate now.

Quotes from partner organizations

•    “No other tool is as valuable for conservation as the Red List, which provides scientists and decision makers with an important set of information, freely available to the public, to improve the effectiveness of our conservation efforts,” says Dr. Russell Mittermeier, Chair of IUCN's Primate Specialist Group and president of Conservation International.

•    “Reliable data are the foundation for conservation planning that hopes to drive effective conservation action on the most endangered species and sites,” says Prof. Luigi Boitani, Sapienza Università di Roma. “For the first time, good data, contributed and validated by the best experts on Earth, show the patterns and extent of the pressures on the viability of mammal species. This trend is particularly dramatic for Southeast Asia which suffers from increasing human activities, deforestation being the major issue.”

•    “This assessment establishes a platform from which all future conservation efforts can be measured,” said Dr. Andrew Smith, School of Life Sciences, Arizona State University. “It captures data on the mammal fauna of the world in a unique database that has been structured to highlight conservation, and which is designed to be a living database to incorporate future data and trends on mammals. This effort will hopefully spur greater attention on the conservation of mammals and the habitats they occupy, for the benefit of all biodiversity.”

•    “These mammal data represent the best in collaboration among academic researchers and conservationists, because they bring to bear the best science on the status of the world’s mammals, placing it directly into the hands of the people who will effect conservation action in the field,” Dr. Thomas Lacher, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, Texas A&M University.

•    “This massive tabulation of the locations and often precarious situations of the Earth's mammal species spotlights our need for an increased understanding of the regional changes that are the ultimate challenge to the survival of many of these incredible creatures,” says Dr. Thomas C. Skalak, Vice President for Research, University of Virginia.


For information about more species on this year’s IUCN Red List please visit and

For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:
•    Sarah Horsley, IUCN Media Relations Officer, m +34 600 906 822, m +41 79 528 3486, e
•    Carolin Wahnbaeck, IUCN Media Relations Officer, m +34 600 919 620, m +41 79 858 87593, e
•    Helen Boulden, IUCN Species Programme, m +34 600 906 742 e

For high resolution photos and case studies on species please visit:
For 2 minute video B roll prepared by Arkive ( please visit:

•    The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classifies species according to their extinction risk. It is a searchable online database containing the global status and supporting information on 45,000 species. Its primary goal is to identify and document the species most in need of conservation attention and provide an index of the state of biodiversity.

•    The IUCN Red List threat categories are the following, in descending order of threat:
o    Extinct or Extinct in the Wild;
o    Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable: species threatened with global extinction;
o    Near Threatened: species close to the threatened thresholds or that would be threatened without ongoing specific conservation measures;
o    Least Concern: species evaluated with a low risk of extinction;
o    Data Deficient: no assessment because of insufficient data.

•    Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct): This is not a new Red List category, but is a flag developed to identify those Critically Endangered species that are in all probability already Extinct but for which confirmation is required (for example, through more extensive surveys being carried out and failing to find any individuals).

•    Major analyses of the IUCN Red List are produced every four years. These were produced in 1996, 2000 and 2004. The 2008 Review of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is available from:

•    Funding for the assessment of the world’s mammals was provided by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund.

About IUCN

IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges by supporting scientific research; managing field projects all over the world; and bringing governments, NGOs, the UN, international conventions and companies together to develop policy, laws and best practice.

The world's oldest and largest global environmental network, IUCN is a democratic membership union with more than 1,000 government and NGO member organizations, and almost 11,000 volunteer scientists and experts in some 160 countries.  IUCN's work is supported by over 1,000 professional staff in 60 offices and hundreds of partners in public, NGO and private sectors around the world. IUCN's headquarters are located in Gland, near Geneva, in Switzerland.

About the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) and Species Programme

The Species Survival Commission (SSC) is the largest of IUCN’s six volunteer commissions with a global membership of 7,000 experts. SSC advises IUCN and its members on the wide range of technical and scientific aspects of species conservation and is dedicated to securing a future for biodiversity. SSC has significant input into the international agreements dealing with biodiversity conservation. Web:

The IUCN Species Programme supports the activities of the IUCN Species Survival Commission and individual Specialist Groups, as well as implementing global species conservation initiatives. It is an integral part of the IUCN Secretariat and is managed from IUCN’s international headquarters in Gland, Switzerland. The Species Programme includes a number of technical units covering Species Trade and Use, the Red List Unit, Freshwater Biodiversity Assessments Unit, (all located in Cambridge, UK), and the Global Biodiversity Assessment Unit (located in Washington DC, USA).

About Conservation International (CI)

Conservation International (CI) applies innovations in science, economics, policy and community participation to protect the Earth's richest regions of plant and animal diversity in the biodiversity hotspots, high-biodiversity wilderness areas and key marine ecosystems. With headquarters in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, CI works in more than 40 countries on four continents. For more information about CI, visit

About the Zoological Society of London (ZSL)

Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity: our key role is the conservation of animals and their habitats.  ZSL runs ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, carries out scientific research in the Institute of Zoology and is actively involved in field conservation in over thirty countries worldwide.