Species are the cornerstone of functioning ecosystems, upon which all life depends, from the most untouched forests and oceans of the world to highly modified rural and urban landscapes. Globally however, the ongoing decline of nature and the rate at which species are going extinct is threatening the foundations of our livelihoods, economies, food security, health, culture and traditions. The 2019 IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services stated that vertebrate species have declined on average by 68% since 1970, and around 25% of animals and plants assessed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species are threatened, suggesting that around 1 million species may already face extinction, many within decades.
The countries of the Asia region are some of the most biodiverse on the planet, with an astounding array of unique and extraordinary species. Historically the region abounded with wildlife. As with many around the world, the people of the Asia region share a multitude of connections with species. The problem of species loss is particularly acute in Asia where high and growing human population densities, poor governance, a lack of capacity, a shortage of funding and high demand of wildlife products and illegal wildlife trade is contributing to the decline and extinction of a wide range of animals and plants. Six of the top 20 countries in the world with the most number of threatened species are in Asia. South-East Asia has the highest proportion of Critically Endangered vertebrate species anywhere in the world.
The main direct threats to species in Asia can be summarised as:
- Habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation due to agricultural and urban expansion, conversion of habitats, large infrastructure development (e.g. dams, roads), and mining
- Unsustainable offtake, use and consumption
- Illegal wildlife trade
- Invasive alien species and diseases
- Climate change
Other important threats in the region with lesser intensity or that are localized include;
- Human-wildlife conflict
- Small population effects
Addressing these threats at local levels and at scale is challenging due to their complexity and often inter-related nature. Further, a large number of threatened species require specific interventions that fall outside of major regional or landscape-level initiatives.
Funding for species focused work has also significantly decreased in the last 10 years with fewer funding sources and donors prioritizing species conservation action. There tend to be a large number of projects focused on species specific conservation action, however, many of them are small investments of less than US$30,000. It is estimated that during the 5 year period between 2015-2019, species focused conservation received less than US$25 million, a fraction of the estimated US$3.4 billion invested in biodiversity conservation initiatives by funders during the same period.
In the Asia region, most species conservation work is either focused on a small number of symbolic and charismatic species such as Tigers and Asian elephant, or those prevalent in illegal trade. Whilst there is no question that these initiatives are warranted and serve to benefit many species, it has resulted in large gaps in funding to support actions to conserve and protect other taxa including, freshwater fish, invertebrates, fungi, plants, and most species of bird, reptile and amphibian.
In the Asia region most countries are signatories to multilateral environmental agreements which provide substantive guidance and frameworks that support species conservation. These include the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), Convention on Wetlands (RAMSAR), and Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS). At a national level the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plans (NBSAPs) are the main vehicles of national implementation of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Regional and national-level species / taxa conservation action plans also serve to guide conservation action.
With our Members, Commissions and Secretariat, IUCN is uniquely placed to support species conservation in Asia. Many of the 295 IUCN members in the region lead action on the ground to conserve species, or have mandates that are highly relevant to policy and planning frameworks for species conservation. The IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) is a science-based network of more than 9,000 volunteer experts from almost every country of the world. These members also form over 160 different Specialist Groups, Red List Authorities and Task Forces. The SSC’s major role is to provide information to IUCN on biodiversity conservation, the inherent value of species, their role in ecosystem health and functioning, the provision of ecosystem services, and their support to human livelihoods. SSC members provide scientific advice to conservation actors including governments, and produce guidance and standards. The IUCN Secretariat consists of several programmes and units with a focus on species. At the global level the leading units is the Global Species and Key Biodiversity Area Programme. In Asia IUCN maintains a presence in 13 countries. The staff of the Secretariat in Asia provide a knowledge base that serves to further the mission of IUCN and support IUCN members to take action on the ground.
IUCN Members, Commissions, and Secretariat work together to conserve species following a three tiered approach.
- ASSESS the conservation status of species through knowledge tools and processes such as the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and IUCN Green Status of Species;
- PLAN to halt species decline by providing evidence based information to inform national and international policies and decision making to ensure effective species conservation action;
- ACT to improve the status of biodiversity, by convening and mobilizing actions involving governments, academia, civil society and the private sector.
In recent years the majority of IUCN Asia’s work on species conservation has focused on strategic re-granting mechanisms that support civil society actors. Some of the main initiatives include the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF), Save our Species (SOS) Gibbons initiative and the Integrated Tiger and Habitat Conservation Programme (ITHCP) that are some of the few species-focused granting mechanisms in the region. Maintaining these, and developing new granting mechanisms will be of critical importance to furthering species conservation in the region.
Other activities include supporting the implementation of CITES Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants (MIKE) programme in South Asia and South-east Asia. MIKE provides technical advice, capacity development, and physical resources to improve reporting on elephant deaths and to strengthen protection at key sites in Asian Elephant range States. IUCN Asia also takes an active role in the IUCN SSC Asian Species Action Partnership (ASAP), an alliance of conservation organisations with the collective aim of focusing urgent conservation attention on the species most at risk of extinction in Southeast Asia.
At the national level IUCN Asia country programmes have engaged in a diverse range of species focused initiatives including;
- Supporting IUCN Red List assessments (e.g. in Bangladesh, Maldives, Myanmar, India)
- Species Conservation Action Planning (e.g. Elephants in Bangladesh)
- Targeted species conservation action (e.g. Vultures in Bangladesh, Gibbons in Laos, Ganges River Dolphins in Nepal, critically endangered freshwater fishes in Sri Lanka, marine turtles in Vietnam)
- Combatting illegal wildlife trade (e.g. Thailand, Pakistan)
- Human-wildlife conflict management (e.g. Bangladesh, HEC Mitigation in Cox’s Bazar)