Breaking! Fin Whales & Mountain Gorillas Gain Improved Status On Updated IUCN Red List; Conservation Efforts Must Continue

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Photos from IUCN

The Fin Whale and the Mountain Gorilla are among the species with improved status, according to today’s update of The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The IUCN Red List now includes 96,951 species of which 26,840 are threatened by extinction.

The Fin Whale has gone from Endangered to Vulnerable following bans on whaling, while the Mountain Gorilla subspecies has moved from Critically Endangered to Endangered as a result of collaborative conservation efforts.

“Today’s update to The IUCN Red List illustrates the power of conservation action, with the recoveries we are seeing of the Fin Whale and the Mountain Gorilla,” Inger Andersen, IUCN Director General said in a statement. “These conservation successes are proof that the ambitious, collaborative efforts of governments, business and civil society could turn back the tide of species loss.”

“Unfortunately, the latest update also underlines how threats to biodiversity continue to undermine some of society’s most important goals, including food security,” continued Andersen. “We urgently need to see effective conservation action strengthened and sustained.”

Previously listed as Endangered, the Fin Whale is now listed as Vulnerable, as the global population of species has roughly doubled since the 1970s. The recovery follows international bans on commercial whaling in the North Pacific and in the Southern Hemisphere which has been in place since 1976, there has been a significant reduction in catches in the North Atlantic since 1990. The status of the western subpopulation of the Gray Whale has also improved, moving from Critically Endangered to Endangered. Both of these whale species were historically threatened by overexploitation for their blubber, oil and meat.

“Fin Whales and Western Gray Whales were severely depleted by hunting and it is a relief to finally see their populations on the rise. These whales are recovering largely thanks to bans on commercial hunting, international agreements, and various protection measures,” stated Randall Reeves, Chair of the IUCN SSC Cetacean Specialist Group. “Conservation efforts must continue until the populations are no longer threatened.”

The nearly complete protection of Fin Whales throughout their range, has allowed the global population to reach around 100,000 mature individuals.

This update of The IUCN Red List also brings hope for the Mountain Gorilla, which has improved in status from Critically Endangered to Endangered, thanks to collaborative conservation efforts across country boundaries and positive engagement from communities living around the Mountain Gorilla habitat. The Mountain Gorilla is one of two subspecies of the Eastern Gorilla; the Eastern Gorilla species remains Critically Endangered.

Intensive conservation action, including anti-poaching patrols and in-situ veterinary interventions, such as the removal of snares, has contributed to the growth of Mountain Gorilla populations since the previous IUCN Red List assessment, published in 2008.

The 2008 Mountain Gorilla population was estimated to be around 680 individuals, but 2018 estimates show that it has increased to over 1,000 individuals, the highest figure ever recorded for the subspecies. The population growth has been confirmed through coordinated and improved survey methods.

Mountain Gorilla habitat is restricted to protected areas in two locations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and UgandaThe Virunga Massif and Bwindi-Sarambwe. Both locations are bordered by land intensively cultivated for agriculture by a growing human population. Threats to this subspecies remain high, including poaching, recurring civil unrest, and human-introduced diseases ranging from respiratory infections to Ebola.

“While it is fantastic news that Mountain Gorillas are increasing in numbers, this subspecies is still Endangered and therefore conservation action must continue,” said Dr. Liz Williamson of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group. “Coordinated efforts through a regional action plan and fully implementing IUCN Best Practice guidelines for great ape tourism and disease prevention, which recommend limiting numbers of tourists and preventing any close contact with humans, are critical to ensuring a future for the Mountain Gorilla.”

Sadly, the largest North American tortoise species, the Bolson Tortoise, is one of the species that had its status change from Vulnerable to Critically Endangered on The IUCN Red List due to exploitation for subsistence consumption, as well as widespread habitat loss.

The population of the tortoise, found in isolated areas in the Bolsón de Mapimí basin in Mexico, has plummeted by over 64% in the past 30 years. The species is endangered under Mexican federal wildlife laws and captive breeding programs aiming to reintroduce the species to New Mexico and Texas in the United States.

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