Global Push Urged to Stem Rising Animal Extinctions, Study Says

Stronger steps must be taken by governments around the world to save 52 species of animals threatened each year with extinction, said a study released during a United Nations biodiversity meeting in Nagoya, Japan.

About one-fifth of mammals, birds and amphibians face the risk of becoming extinct, said the report, published 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 that about 20 percent of the animals were categorized as endangered or vulnerable.

The number of threatened species would be even higher if not for the success of conservation efforts, according to the study released yesterday. 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, the authors said.

“We have missed the 2010 biodiversity targets,” Ana Rodrigues from the Center for Evolutionary and Functional Ecology in Montpellier, France, said yesterday in a conference call with reporters. “But what our results show is that conservation efforts are not wasted. It would be even worse in the absence of those conservation efforts.”

One in three amphibians, one in four mammals and reptiles, and one in eight birds are now threatened with extinction, said Craig Hilton-Taylor, a scientist with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, based near Geneva, Switzerland.

Wrong Direction

“When we look at the trends and state of species over time, we find that there are more species moving toward extinction or even becoming extinct than there are species which are recovering or becoming safer,” Hilton-Taylor said.

The authors said while the rate of extinction is growing, conservation efforts have a positive effect.

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.

The nations meeting at the biodiversity convention must understand the urgency of action even given the global economic crisis, said Michael Hoffmann, a scientist at the union for the conservation of nature and the leader of the study.

“It’s absolutely vital that governments tackle the biodiversity crisis with the same urgency as they have the financial crisis,” Hoffmann said. “The public is so used to hearing that everything is doomed, to the point that nobody believes we can do anything about it. This is nonsense. Conservation can and does work.”

Economic Costs

Hoffmann 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.

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