Latest IUCN Red List Update Reveals That Overfishing & Hunting For Bushmeat Are Driving Iconic Species Towards Extinction

Overfishing has pushed two families of rays to the brink of extinction, while hunting for bushmeat and habitat loss have led to the decline of seven primate species, according to the latest update of The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The update also reveals further evidence of the perilous state of freshwater fishes globally. This is shown by high numbers of species threatened by the loss of free flowing rivers, habitat degradation, pollution, and invasive species in Japan and Mexico.

The IUCN Red List has broken through the 100,000 species barrier; it now includes assessments for 105,732 species, of which 28,338 species are threatened with extinction.

“With more than 100,000 species now assessed for the IUCN Red List, this update clearly shows how much humans around the world are overexploiting wildlife,” IUCN Acting Director General, Dr. Grethel Aguilar said in a statement. “We must wake up to the fact that conserving nature’s diversity is in our interest, and is absolutely fundamental to achieving Sustainable Development Goals.”

“This Red List update confirms the findings of the recent IPBES Global Biodiversity Assessment: nature is declining at rates unprecedented in human history,” said Jane Smart, Global Director of the IUCN Biodiversity Conservation Group. “Both national and international trade are driving the decline of species in the oceans, in freshwater and on land. Decisive action is needed to halt this decline. The timing of this assessment is critical as governments are starting to negotiate a new global biodiversity framework for such action.”

Rhino Rays on the brink of extinction

Wedgefishes and giant guitarfishes, collectively known as Rhino Rays because of their elongated snouts, are now the most imperiled marine fish families in the world, with all but one of the 16 species assessed as Critically Endangered. The False Shark Ray of Mauritania is very close to extinction, having suffered a population decline of more than 80% in the last 45 years.

Rhino Rays live in shallow waters from the Indian and West Pacific Oceans to the East Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Increasingly intense and essentially unregulated coastal fishing is driving their decline, with most caught along with other fish as “bycatch”. Rhino Ray meat is sold locally, while the fins are highly valued and internationally traded for shark fin soup.

“To prevent losing these ray families, it is critical that governments immediately establish and enforce species protections, bycatch mitigation programs, marine protected areas, and international trade controls,” said Colin Simpfendorfer, Co-Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Shark Specialist Group “Educational initiatives focused on Rhino Ray identification, status, and safe-release protocols for animals captured are also urgently needed at the local level to effectively implement protections.”

Primates threatened by hunting for bushmeat and habitat loss

Hunting combined with habitat loss has pushed seven species of primates closer to extinction, according to the updated IUCN Red List. Six of these species occur in West Africa, and show clearly how hunting for bushmeat and development-related deforestation are causing primate populations to decline. 40% of primate species in West and Central Africa are now threatened with extinction.

“West Africa is one of the very highest priority areas on Earth for primate conservation. The combination of forest destruction and heavy bushmeat hunting, probably the highest level of this latter threat anywhere in the word, has pushed a number of primate species there to the brink of extinction,” said Russ Mittermeier, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission Primate Specialist Group. “Maintaining the amazing primate diversity of this region will require the creation of new protected areas, better management of existing ones, more effective enforcement of protective legislation, and economic alternatives that value primates as something more than a source of meat.”

The Roloway Monkey has moved from Endangered to Critically Endangered, one step away from extinction. Endemic to Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, there are thought to be fewer than 2,000 surviving individuals. Their relatively large body size and the value of their meat and skin have made Roloway Monkeys a preferred target for hunters, driving the population to a precariously low level. Once abundant from Western Nigeria to the Gabon-Congo border, the Red-Capped Mangabey has moved from Vulnerable to Endangered, with the healthiest population reportedly occurring in Gabon.

These West African primate species are also suffering severe habitat loss as land is converted to food crops. Increasing road access is facilitating hunting and the transportation of bushmeat to both local markets and distant urban centers.

Silent decline of freshwater fish species

The IUCN Red List update reveals that over half of Japan’s endemic freshwater fishes and over a third of freshwater fishes in Mexico are threatened with extinction. The main drivers of this decline are the loss of free flowing rivers and increasing agricultural, as well as urban pollution. The construction of dams and weirs is having a significant effect on freshwater fish species in both countries, combined with competition and predation by invasive species.

“The world’s freshwater fish species, which number almost 18,000, are undergoing a dramatic and largely unrecognized global decline, as made apparent in the high levels of extinction threat to freshwater fish species in Japan and Mexico,” said William Darwall, Head of the IUCN Freshwater Biodiversity Unit. “To halt these declines, we urgently need policies on the human use of freshwaters that allow for the needs of the many other species sharing these ecosystems.”

Shining a light on the deep

With this update, about 500 deep-sea bony fish species such as bioluminescent lanternfishes enter the Red List. These species can occur deeper than 1,000 metres, and some face potential threats from deep-fishing activity and the oil and gas industries, as well as plumes from deep seabed mining.

A notable introduction to the Red List is the first and already Endangered deep-sea hydrothermal vent mollusc, the Scaly-Foot Snail. This species is known from three locations restricted to hydrothermal vents on deep-ocean ridges in the Indian Ocean, at depths of up to 2,900 metres. There is ongoing investigation into the development of deep-sea mining in two of these areas; if mining is permitted the habitat could be severely reduced or destroyed. The International Seabed Authority is currently developing regulations to manage deep sea mining beyond national boundaries.

Trees threatened by overexploitation and invasive diseases

The Red List now includes assessments of the majority of dry forest trees in Madagascar, including updated assessments for 23 rosewood and palissander tree species. These species are highly exploited for their precious wood, with over 90% of them now threatened. Rosewood species are used across the world in the timber trade, and are one of the world’s most illegally trafficked wild products. The other main threats are habitat loss due to forest clearance for agricultural use and charcoal production. The continued survival of these rosewood species is dependent on increased enforcement of local management plans, national laws, and international cooperation.

The American elm also enters the Red List for the first time as Endangered.

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