Conservation efforts have saved at least 28 bird and mammal species from becoming extinct since the year 1993, a study has concluded.
Researchers from the UK analysed 73 of the world’s most threatened species and predicted how many would have gone extinct were it not for conservation efforts.
Among those species pulled back from the brink are the Puerto Rican parrot, Mongolian wild horse, Iberian Lynx and the Black Stilt — a New Zealand wading bird.
These animals have been threatened by such factors as human-driven destruction of their habitats, invasive predators, disease, hunting and climate change.
Successful conservation strategies in these cases included controlling invasive species, introduction of protected sites and the efforts of zoos and collections.
The findings follow a WWF report released yesterday warming that global wildlife populations have fallen by more than two-thirds since the seventies.
Conservation efforts have saved at least 28 bird and mammal species from becoming extinct since the year 1993, a study has concluded. Pictured, an Iberian Lynx, one of the saved species
CASE STUDY: PUERTO RICAN PARROT
Amazona vittata, the Puerto Rican parrot, numbered only 13 individuals out in the wild 1975.
In 2017, this original population was wiped out by hurricanes.
However, conservation efforts that began in 2006 had reintroduced another group of the parrots into the Rio Abajo State Park that survived.
Without this programme, the parrots would have gone extinct in the wild.
‘It is encouraging that some of the species we studied have recovered very well,’ said paper author and biodiversity expert Rike Bolam of Newcastle University.
‘Our analyses therefore provide a strikingly positive message that conservation has substantially reduced extinction rates for birds and mammals,’ she added.
‘While extinctions have also occurred over the same time period, our work shows that it is possible to prevent extinctions.’
In their study, Dr Bolam and colleagues compiled observations from 137 experts on 73 of the world’s most at-risk species (48 birds and 25 mammals), as identified by the so-called ‘Red List‘ of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
They collected such data as each species’ population sizes and trends, the threats they face and the actions that have been taken to protect them.
From this information, they set about to calculate the likelihood that each species would have gone extinct if conservationists had not intervened.
The researchers determined that — without conservation efforts — the rate of extinction would have been around 3–4 times higher, with an estimated 21–32 bird and 7–16 mammals species have been saved from vanishing since 1993.
The ranges in these values, the researchers explained, represent the inherent uncertainty in trying to predict the outcomes of such hypothetical circumstances.
Of the conserved animals, 21 bird species benefited from invasive species control, 20 species from the efforts of zoos and collections, and 19 species from the introduction of site-based protections.
Meanwhile, 14 mammal species were saved with the help of protective legislation and nine from a combination of conservation and re-wilding efforts by zoos and collections, the researchers explained.
Researchers from the UK analysed some of the world’s most threatened species and predicted how many would have gone extinct were it not for conservation efforts. Pictured, a mating pair of Puerto Rican Amazons (or ‘Amazona vittata’) which have been saved by protection activities
Among those species pulled back from the brink are the Puerto Rican parrot, Mongolian wild horse (or ‘Equus ferus’, pictured), Iberian Lynx and the Black Stilt — a New Zealand wader
‘This is a glimmer of hope — that if we take action we can prevent the irreversible loss of the last individuals of a species,’ said paper author and Newcastle University biologist Phil McGowan, who leads the IUCN’s Species Survival Commission.
However, he added, ‘we mustn’t forget that in the same period, 15 bird and mammal species went extinct or are strongly suspected to have gone extinct.’
In some cases, conservation efforts simply are not enough, the team noted. For example, the Gulf of California’s Vaquita, or ‘Phocoena sinus’, is a porpoise species whose numbers continue to fall despite efforts to minimise the damage of fishing.
‘We usually hear bad stories about the biodiversity crisis and there is no doubt that we are facing an unprecedented loss in biodiversity through human activity,’ Professor McGowan added.
‘The loss of entire species can be stopped if there is sufficient will to do so. This is a call to action: showing the scale of the issue and what we can achieve if we act now to support conservation and prevent extinction.’
Some of the species saved now only exist in captivity — although there is always the hope that they might be re-introduced into the wild in the future.
Case in point: Mongolian wild horse — also known as ‘Przewalski’s horse’ and ‘Equus ferus’ — went extinct in the wild in the sixties, but was restored by a rewilding programme which began in the nineties.
The species first new wild foal was then born in 1996 — and the Mongolian steps today plays host to a population of 760 of the horses.
‘It is encouraging that some of the species we studied have recovered very well,’ said paper author and biodiversity expert Rike Bolam of Newcastle University. ‘Our analyses therefore provide a strikingly positive message that conservation has substantially reduced extinction rates for birds and mammals,’ she added. Pictured, a Black Stilt, a New Zealand wading bird
‘Despite the overall failure to meet the targets for conserving nature set through the UN a decade ago, significant success in preventing extinctions was achieved,’ said paper author and zoologist Stuart Butchart of BirdLife International.
‘This should encourage governments to reaffirm their commitment to halt extinctions and recover populations of threatened species in the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework currently being negotiated.’
‘Such a commitment is both achievable and essential to sustain a healthy planet.’
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Conservation Letters.
THE IUCN RED LIST
Species on the endangered red list are animals of the highest conservation priority that need ‘urgent action’ to save.
An Amber list is reserved for the next most critical group, followed by a green list.
Red list criteria:
- Globally threatened
- Historical population decline in UK during 1800–1995
- Severe (at least 50 per cent) decline in UK breeding population over last 25 years
- Severe (at least 50 per cent) contraction of UK breeding range over last 25 years
In recent years, in the UK, several more species have been added to the list.
- Atlantic puffin
- Long-tailed duck
- Turtle dove