The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has just been published and it paints a depressing picture for a number of animals, including the vast majority of the world’s lemur population.
The Red List, which is divided into seven categories and runs from “Least Concern” to “Extinction,” is published each year as a means to both track animal and plant numbers and also as a way to draw attention to the plight of particular species. This year the IUCN update confirms that almost 94% of the world’s lemurs are now under threat of extinction, making these primates one of the most endangered groups of animals on the planet.
It’s thought there are 101 surviving lemur species. Of them, 22 are now listed as Critically Endangered, while 48 are classed as Endangered and 20 species are classed as Vulnerable.
The culprit seems to be large scale deforestation in their Madagascar habitats where illegal logging and political failure to prioritize environmental concerns has contributed to a severe decline in lemur populations. It’s estimated that about 90% of the vegetation on the island has been destroyed. There’s also the fact that, due to severe poverty in some areas, people are hunting the lemurs for food.
The IUCN remains optimistic, however, that a solution could still be found and the lemurs saved, with Christoph Schwitzer, Vice-Chair for Madagascar of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group, quoted as saying: “Past successes demonstrate that collaboration between local communities, non-governmental organisations and researchers can protect imperiled primate species. We urgently invite all [agencies] to join our efforts to ensure the continued existence of lemurs and the biological, cultural and economic richness they represent.”
A number of other species also join the lemur on the IUCN Red List, including Brazil’s official 2014 World Cup mascot, the Brazilian Three-banded Armadillo. The armadillo appears under the category of “vulnerable to extinction in the wild,” and the issue is made more worrying precisely because of the armadillo’s new found celebrity status.
“The situation is even worse than we thought,” Mariella Superina, chair of the IUCN’s anteater, sloth and armadillo specialist group, said in comments made to Reuters. “Three-banded armadillos are very easy to catch. People see it as a cute animal because it rolls itself up into a ball. We are worried that people will want them as pets. They are definitely not pets.”
You can find out more about how World Cup coverage is failing the armadillo, and what we can do about it, here.
A newcomer to the list this year is the Japanese Eel. It is the first time the species has been assessed and, though the eel is unfortunately classed as Endangered due to the fact that it is overfished as the most expensive delicacy of its kind in Japan and is facing a growing loss of habitat, the fact that the eels’ numbers have been estimated at all is a positive because we now have a baseline to measure whether intervention methods are working.
Other species to be assessed include the national flower of the Cayman Islands, the Banana Orchid, which is listed as Endangered, and the Governor Laffan’s Fern, which was once found in caves in Bermuda. It is now classed as Extinct in the wild. However, not all the news on this list is bad.
Thanks to conservation efforts, Israel’s Yarkon Bream fish has moved from the brink of extinction, all the way up the scale to just Vulnerable. To be sure, the fish isn’t out of danger yet but this massive turnaround from just eight years ago shows that conservation efforts can and do pay off.
Photo credit: Thinkstock.