Friday, October 24, 2008

The Sinking Ark: Vanishing Mammals

This blog was begun to celebrate and advocate for nature, with emphasis on celebrate—we just don’t do that enough.

But today, we’ll leave the celebrating for another day: A recent United Nations study, as reported in many places (like here) fully one quarter of the world's mammals are threatened with extinction by 2030. That's 25% of the world's 5,600 mammals.

As if that wasn’t sobering enough, the study also found that half of all were in decline. Jan Schipper, the scientist who led the study, said threats were worst for land mammals in Asia, where creatures such as orangutans (left) are suffering from deforestation. Almost 80 percent of primates in that region are in trouble.

One of the most threatened includes the Iberian lynx, for which there are only some 100 left. But such notables as the Tasmanian devil, black rhino, and Siberian tiger are also in steep decline. The little earth hutia of Cuba has not been seen in 40 years; the polar bear is rising in concern as Arctic ice melts seemingly before our eyes.

At least 76 mammals have gone extinct since 1500.

No surprise: habitat loss, hunting and now climate change are big factors in the loss.

"Within our lifetime hundreds of species could be lost as a result of our own actions," said Julia Marton-Lefevre, director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

OK, there’s a slim glimmer of hope: five percent of species are recovering because of conservation efforts, including the black-footed ferret; the African elephant was also moved down one notch of risk, from "vulnerable" to "near threatened." Amazingly, almost 350 new species of mammals have been found since 1992, such as the elephant shrew in Tanzania, it said.

There’s a cruel irony: species are likely vanishing before they are even described.

So we’ve got work to do. As Martin Luther King said in a different context, there is a “fierce urgency of now.”

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