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Animals Face Extinction Threat as Conservation Efforts Slow, Report Says

About one-fifth of animal species are at risk of extinction, according to a study released today as governments and conservation groups meet in Nagoya, Japan, to counter the threat.

Fifty-two species of mammals, birds and amphibians move a step closer to extinction each year, said the report, published today in the journal Science and prepared by 174 scientists from around the world. They analyzed data for more than 25,000 vertebrate species and found a quarter of the animals were categorized as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable.

The number of threatened species would be even higher if not for the success of conservation efforts, the study found. In 1992, 193 nations agreed in the Convention on Biological Diversity to achieve “a significant reduction” in the rate of extinctions, a goal that hasn’t been met, according to the authors.

“The public is so used to hearing that everything is doomed, to the point that nobody believes we can do anything about it,” said study leader Michael Hoffmann, a scientist at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, based near Geneva, Switzerland. “This is nonsense. Conservation can and does work.”

While animals are threatened in all parts of the globe, tropical nations have the highest number of threatened species, especially in Southeast Asia, where agricultural expansion, logging and hunting are boosting the threats to animals, the report said.

Urgency of Action

The nations meeting at the biodiversity convention must understand the urgency of action even given the global economic crisis, Hoffmann said.

“It’s absolutely vital that governments tackle the biodiversity crisis with the same urgency as they have the financial crisis,” Hoffmann said.

He cited a study released Oct. 20 by a Bonn, Germany-based group called the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, which found that conserving forests avoids greenhouse gas emissions that would have an economic cost of $3.7 trillion. Income from global fisheries has been reduced by $50 billion a year because of poor management of fisheries, according to the group, which is supported by the United Nations and several European governments.

“I think we have pretty huge economic arguments for why investing in our natural assets is extremely important,” Hoffmann said.

While U.S. President Bill Clinton signed the 1992 convention and the U.S. is participating in the Nagoya meeting, the agreement was never ratified by the U.S. Senate. The biodiversity convention began Oct. 18 and concludes Oct. 29.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rob Waters in San Francisco at rwaters5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net.

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