How's that for a frightening figure? 1/4 of all mammals on earth are on the IUCN's newest "Red List," animals threatened with extinction - that's 1,141 of them, at least, with 188 being 'critically endangered.' I say 'at least' because almost as many - 836 of them - are 'data deficient,' which means there aren't enough studies on their population numbers to say one way or the other. But many of these are species that are hard to find in the wild, possibly because they're going extinct. “The reality is that the number of threatened mammals could be as high as 36 percent,” says Jan Schipper, of Conservation International and lead author in a forthcoming article in Science. “This indicates that conservation action backed by research is a clear priority for the future, not only to improve the data so that we can evaluate threats to these poorly known species, but to investigate means to recover threatened species and populations.”
29 species are labeled as 'possibly extinct,' like the Cuban Little Earth Hutia, Mesocapromys sanfelipensis, which has not been seen in nearly 40 years (image of the closely related Bahama Little Earth Hutia on right).On top of the 1,141 threatened species, the IUCN reports that 76 species of mammal have gone extinct since 1500. New additions include China’s Père David’s Deer (Elaphurus davidianus, on left), now listed as 'extinct in the wild.' The deer do exist in captivity, however, and there is some chance that wild populations could be re-established from these captive and semi-captive stocks. Nearly 450 mammals have been listed as 'endangered,' including the Tasmanian Devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), which dropped dramatically from 'least concern' to 'endangered' after the global population decreased almost 60% in the last 10 years due to a fatal infectious facial cancer.
The largest threat to most mammal species is habitat loss. Habitat loss and degradation threaten 40% of the world’s mammals, mostly in Central and South America, West, East and Central Africa, Madagascar, and in South and Southeast Asia. Over harvesting is wiping out larger mammals, especially in Southeast Asia, but also in parts of Africa and South America.
Overall, the IUCN Red List now includes 44,838 species, of which 16,928 are threatened with extinction (38%). Of these, 3,246 are 'critically endangered,' 4,770 are 'endangered' and 8,912 are 'vulnerable to extinction.' Amphibians have been hit hardest in recent years, resulting in 366 species added to the IUCN Red List this year. There are now 1,983 species (32%) either threatened or extinct.
But there is still hope. Species can recover with conservation efforts. Success stories include the Black-footed Ferret which was 'extinct in the wild' (now 'critically endangered') and the Wild Horse ('extinct' to 'critically endangered' as well.) However, I can't help but wonder if it's too late for the 30 or so species that are 'possibly extinct,' and it might be cutting it close for the 188 'critically endangered.' The Caspian Seal, for example, has lost 90% of its population in the last century, with numbers still declining (Photo © Simon Goodman). Scientists fear that there simply aren't enough breeding females left to maintain the species, and it's on its way to extinction. My grandchildren may not know a world with polar bears and snow leopards, or any of the numerous species on the brink of extinction. And that, to me, is very depressing.