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Once-abundant ash tree and antelope species face extinction – IUCN Red List

14 September 2017
Fraxinus americana. Kris Bachtell/The Morton Arbore

Gland, Switzerland, 14 September 2017 (IUCN) – North America’s most widespread and valuable ash tree species are on the brink of extinction due to an invasive beetle decimating their populations, while the loss of wilderness areas and poaching are contributing to the declining numbers of five African antelope species, according to the latest update of The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.

Today’s IUCN Red List update also reveals a dramatic decline of grasshoppers and millipedes endemic to Madagascar, and the extinction of the Christmas Island Pipistrelle bat.

The IUCN Red List now includes 87,967 species of which 25,062 are threatened with extinction.

“Our activities as humans are pushing species to the brink so fast that it’s impossible for conservationists to assess the declines in real time,” says Inger Andersen IUCN Director General. “Even those species that we thought were abundant and safe – such as antelopes in Africa or ash trees in the U.S. – now face an imminent threat of extinction.

“And while conservation action does work, conserving the forests, savannas and other biomes that we depend on for our survival and development is simply not a high-enough funding priority. Our planet needs urgent, global action, guided by the Red List data, to ensure species’ survival and our own sustainable future.”

North America’s ash trees on the brink
Fraxinus quadrangulata. Kris Bachtell/The Morton Arboretum.Five of the six most prominent ash tree species in North America enter The IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered – only one step from going extinct – with the sixth species assessed as Endangered. These species are being decimated by the invasive Emerald Ash Borer beetle (Agrilus planipennis). Three of them – Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica), White Ash (Fraxinus americana) and Black Ash (Fraxinus nigra) – are the country’s most dominant ash trees, comprising nearly nine billion trees in the forested lands of the contiguous U.S. The once-plentiful White Ash (Fraxinus americana) is one of the most valuable timber trees of North America used for making furniture, baseball bats and hockey sticks.

Ash trees are a key component of North American forests. They provide habitat and food for birds, squirrels, and insects, and support important pollinator species such as butterflies and moths.

“Ash trees are essential to plant communities of the United States and have been a popular horticultural species, planted by the millions along our streets and in gardens,” says Murphy Westwood, member of the IUCN Global Tree Specialist Group and director of global tree conservation at The Morton Arboretum, who led the assessment. “Their decline, which is likely to affect over 80 percent of the trees, will dramatically change the composition of both wild and urban forests. Due to the great ecological and economic value of ash trees, and because removing dead ash trees is extremely costly, much research is currently underway across sectors to halt their devastating decline. This brings hope for the survival of the species.”

The fast-moving Emerald Ash Borer beetle arrived in Michigan from Asia in the late 1990s via infested shipping pallets, and has already destroyed tens of millions of trees throughout the U.S. and Canada. It has the potential to destroy over eight billion ash trees as it spreads rapidly and can kill nearly an entire forest stand of ash within six years of infestation.

Due to a warming climate, areas which were previously too cold for the beetle are becoming more suitable for it to thrive, making it impossible to know how far it could spread in future.

Five antelope species in decline
Tragelaphus derbianus. Brent Huffman / UltimateUngulate. Although the status of most antelope species remains unchanged, five species of African antelopes – of which four were previously assessed as Least Concern – are declining drastically as a result of poaching, habitat degradation and competition with domestic livestock. This decline reflects a broader downward trend for large African mammals as they compete with the growing human population for space and resources.

“Antelopes have been declining as human populations continue to grow, clearing land for agriculture, unsustainably harvesting bushmeat, expanding their settlements, extracting resources and building new roads,” says David Mallon, Co-Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Antelope Specialist Group. “To reverse this dangerous trend, conserving biodiversity must be given much higher priority as part of efforts to achieve sustainable national economic development. Existing laws protecting wildlife must also be much more effectively enforced.”

The world’s largest antelope, the Giant Eland (Tragelaphus derbianus) – previously assessed as Least Concern – is now Vulnerable. Its estimated global population is between 12,000 and 14,000 at most, with fewer than 10,000 mature animals. This species is declining due to poaching for bushmeat, encroachment into protected areas and expansion of agriculture and livestock grazing. Political instability and armed conflict in Central African Republic are major barriers to protecting this species.

Also previously listed as Least Concern, the Mountain Reedbuck (Redunca fulvorufula) has seen an approximate 55% decline in its South African population over the last 15 years. It is now listed as Endangered as similar declines throughout the rest of the range are probable. Expansion of human settlements leading to increases in poaching and sport hunting with dogs are thought to be the main reasons for its decline. Other threats may include widespread disturbance by cattle herders and their livestock and increased frequency and duration of droughts associated with climate change. Further monitoring data, especially from outside protected areas, are needed to fully quantify the population decline in this species.

Other species are also under threat, including the Heuglin's Gazelle (Eudorcas tilonura) – now Endangered due to competition with domestic livestock and habitat degradation; Southern Lechwe (Kobus leche), now listed as Near Threatened due to poaching, agricultural expansion, livestock grazing and droughts; and the Grey Rhebok (Pelea capreolus) – the origin of the Reebok sports brand – now in the Near Threatened category. Reasons for the decline of this species are poorly understood, and may include increases in illegal sport hunting with dogs, and poaching for bushmeat.

Madagascan grasshoppers and millipedes facing extinction
Sphaeromimus splendidus. Wesener & Schütte 2007While the conservation status of the majority of invertebrate species is still unknown, recent assessments are beginning to reveal the impact of deforestation on Madagascar’s invertebrates. An assessment of all 71 species of endemic Madagascan pygmy grasshoppers shows that almost 40% of them are threatened with extinction. Seven of these species enter The IUCN Red List as Critically Endangered, including the Rumplestiltskin Pygmy Grasshopper (Agkistropleuron simplex). This flightless species is only known to occur in Manakambahiny forest in eastern Madagascar. The only recent record of the species dates back to 1995. Its decline is due to the loss of its forest habitat.

More than 40% of 145 endemic Madagascan millipedes are also threatened with extinction, with 27 of them assessed as Critically Endangered. These include the Shiny Giant Pill Millipede (Sphaeromimus splendidus), which requires a very specific sandy soil habitat in coastal rainforest areas. Its only habitat – the littoral rainforest of Sainte Luce – is now partly degraded due to wood removal and grazing. However, a planned strip-mining project, which will likely cause the destruction of most of its remaining habitat, poses the greatest threat to its survival.

New Snow Leopard data
Thanks to new available data, the Snow Leopard (Panthera uncia) has moved from the Endangered to Vulnerable category. However, its population continues to decline and it still faces a high risk of extinction through habitat loss and degradation, declines in prey, competition with livestock, persecution, and poaching for illegal wildlife trade.

Thanks to significant investments in conservation for this species, including anti-poaching efforts, initiatives to reduce conflict with livestock, and awareness-raising programmes, conditions in parts of the Snow Leopard’s range have improved. It is essential to continue and expand conservation efforts to reverse its declining trend and prevent this iconic cat from moving even closer to extinction.

Christmas Island Pipistrelle goes extinct
Pipistrellus murrayi. Lindy Lumsden. Today’s update declares the Christmas Island Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus murrayi) – a bat species endemic to Australia’s Christmas Island – as Extinct. The population of this species rapidly declined from being common and widespread in the 1980s to between four and 20 animals in January 2009. Only one individual remained in August 2009, and it disappeared later that month. There has been no trace of this bat since then, despite extensive searches of the island. The reasons for the decline are not clear, but may have been a combination of increased predation by introduced species, impacts of invasive Yellow Crazy Ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes) on its habitat and on its invertebrate prey species, or possibly an unknown disease.


Download summary statistics here
Download photos here

For more information or interviews please contact:
Ewa Magiera, IUCN Media Relations, m +41 76 505 33 78, e-mail

The full press release with additional examples and information can be viewed here


Blue carbon climate mitigation potential still largely ignored

07 September 2017
Mangroves in Térraba Sierpe, Costa Rica.Photo: IUCN / Enrique Lahmann

The climate mitigation potential of coastal carbon-rich ecosystems such as mangroves, saltmarshes and seagrasses – often referred to as coastal ‘blue carbon ecosystems’ – is often overlooked in national climate change policies, according to an article published in the journal Aquatic Conservation by IUCN experts.

Blue carbon ecosystems are unique in that they sequester and store carbon dioxide (CO2) at much higher rates per unit area than terrestrial forests – up to six times more than undisturbed tropical rainforests. This means that when these ecosystems are degraded, lost or converted as a result of insufficient conservation measures, massive amounts of CO2 – an estimated 0.15-1.02 billion tons every year – are released into the atmosphere or ocean, accounting for up to 19% of carbon emissions from global deforestation.

"Though blue carbon is not yet fully integrated in all aspects of national and local policy making, there are some best practices that can improve the management of blue carbon ecosystems and ensure their inclusion in relevant policy making,” says Dorothée Herr, Manager of IUCN’s Oceans and Climate Change programme and co-author of the article.

Authors identify several best practices for improved blue carbon management, including setting up community-based carbon projects, where ecosystems are conserved in collaboration with local communities and carbon credits are sold to generate revenues for the communities and sustain the projects. Other practices include encouraging cash-for-management schemes, where coastal communities get direct cash payments for managing blue carbon ecosystem areas, and incorporating blue carbon ecosystems in international mechanisms already working on carbon such as REDD+.

Seagrass in North West Tunisia. Photo: Imène Meliane / IUCN Photo Library.The article examines the blue carbon policies of five countries – Ecuador, Indonesia, Madagascar, Mozambique and the United Arab Emirates, drawing from National Blue Carbon Policy Assessments conducted in these countries for the UN Environment/GEF Blue Forests Project, to identify blue carbon policy trends and highlight best practices which can be scaled up to protect coastal blue carbon ecosystems. It reveals pollution and coastal infrastructure projects as the main causes of ecosystem degradation. Management of these ecosystems also suffer from a lack of coordination in national programmes, lack of law enforcement, financial constraints, and unclear or misguided government mandates, especially where land tenure claims are disputed.

“Conserving blue carbon ecosystems goes far beyond storing carbon,” says Dan Laffoley, Marine Vice Chair of the World Commission on Protected Areas and co-author of the article. “These ecosystems are increasingly recognised for their multiple benefits, including protection against floods, storms and other disasters and providing spawning grounds for commercial fish. What we’ve shown in our paper is how governments and communities can use the potential of coastal blue carbon ecosystems to transform their economies and support their livelihoods.”

The article notes that improved mapping of these ecosystems is an essential first step to allow for a more accurate understanding of the scale of these ecosystems, and where they can fit into existing climate change mitigation plans. Current unreliable data means that these ecosystems are often left out of carbon accounting. There also needs to be cross-sectoral collaboration, from various government departments, to fully understand the threats facing these ecosystems and strengthen their protection.

The paper, ‘Pathways for implementation of blue carbon initiatives’, can be accessed here.



Supporting Mediterranean ecosystems helps buffer against climate change

30 August 2017
Mediterranean high mountain Quercus forests at Sierra Nevada National Park provide a wide variety of ecosystem services currently impacted by climate change. Photo: José Miguel Barea.

Natural protected areas like forests, beaches, mountains, scrublands and river ecosystems provide a wide variety of benefits to both people and nature. Many of these ecosystem services are deteriorating due to temperature increases, unpredictable rainfall, the arrival of invasive species and other climate change phenomena. Supporting the healthy functioning of these ecosystems is key.

Disruption to natural ecosystem services such as water provision, soil formation and retention, regulation of climate, carbon storage, oxygen production, and the provision of wood, honey, etc. is being felt in the Mediterranean region – which is undergoing a considerable increase in heat waves, and experiencing longer and more frequent droughts. This trend is expected to increase significantly in the future.

Traditional irrigation channels at Sierra Nevada National Park are excellent tools to mitigate climate change effects and to improve traditional and sustainable agriculture techniques. Photo: José Miguel Barea.IUCN is currently involved in a pioneering endeavor in the region called the Life ADAPTAMED project, which aims to mitigate the negative effects of climate change on key ecosystem services provided to local inhabitants within three iconic and representative Mediterranean natural protected areas. These protected areas are: (1) Doñana Nature Space (Andalusia, southern Spain), which is not only one of the most important wetlands in Europe, but is one of the best examples of Mediterranean coastal forest and scrubland; (2) Sierra Nevada National and Natural Park, a high mountainous ecosystem with one of the highest biodiversity values in the Mediterranean hotspot; and (3) Cabo de Gata Natural Park, a dry coastal area at the southwestern edge of the Iberian Peninsula holding one of Europe’s few desert-like ecosystems. Both Doñana and Sierra Nevada are part of the IUCN Green List of Protected Areas.

The Life ADAPTAMED project focuses on adaptive management measures addressing the socio-ecosystems identified as key for the provision of soil retention, pollination, pastureland, temperature regulation, water retention, and the prevention of forest fires and desertification, among others.

Project partners are undertaking pine plantation and Quercus forest management, as well as the restoration of pre-desert ecosystems and high mountain scrublands. Pine plantations are key ecosystems to understand as they are present at all three natural protected areas and in many other sites around the Mediterranean basin. Furthermore, the structure of these planted forests presents many environmental problems revealing the need for an adaptation process to improve their resilience and resistance to climate change effects. Management actions featured in the project include several activities aimed at improving forest heterogeneity, natural vegetation regeneration and the general recovery of the very ecological functionality of a natural forest.

Pine plantations can be managed in a way that improves their capacity to provide ecosystem services under a climate change scenario. Photo: José Miguel Barea. In Sierra Nevada, the project is currently improving the structure of the Quercus forest ecosystem through the nurturing of key individuals, creating a favorable natural environment and planting new trees. In Doñana, management also involves the installation of fences against herbivores and the creation of refuges for fauna that can also act as nurse structures for seed and plant dispersal and propogation.

For the pre-desert ecosystem of Cabo de Gata Natural Park, a restoration of jujube tree habitat (including the installation of a complex system to monitor the underground water) has been put in place. In this area, partners are also working on infrastructure and management techniques aimed at protecting the soil. These techniques are based on traditional agricultural techniques that are known best practices for protecting the soil in one of the driest environments in Europe.

Another management target is the recovery of key botanical elements on the high Mediterranean mosaic, mainly mountain juniper species, through the rehabilitation of traditional irrigation channels. Thousands of kilometers of centuries-old irrigation channels could play an important role in adapting to climate change because they slow down the dispersal of water, retaining it for longer periods, which helps the recovery of mountain plant species in their vicinity. This is a pilot endeavor that joins ancient knowledge, cultural heritage, biodiversity conservation, ecosystem services protection and innovative research.

In summary, the project is exploring a variety of ways to make forests more resistant to rising temperatures, heat waves, pest emergence and to drought events.

Life ADAPTAMED aims to evaluate different management models in order to identify the most efficient strategies to cope with climate change. Several technical manuals and reports, scientific publications, a solid social media presence, expositions and project symposia are planned in the coming years in order to reinforce and ensure the replicability of the key findings across the Mediterranean region.

Several hundred jujubes have been planted at the Cabo de Gata Natural Park. Photo: José Miguel Barea.IUCN and its partners expect that the project will be an important tool for further understanding forest management strategies in the Mediterranean region. It incorporates traditional concepts, important topics such as resistance and resilience capacity, adaptive management, ecosystem services protection, the involvement of local communities, ecological monitoring and manager-researcher collaborative work schemes. All of these concepts are essential for understanding forest management and protecting their ecosystem services under a global climate change scenario.

The Life ADAPTAMED project, co-funded by the European Union, is led by the Ministry of Environment of the Junta de Andalucía and includes partners such as IUCN and others from academia, including: the University of Granada, through the Interuniversity Institute for Earth System Research in Andalusia; the Biological Station of Doñana, under the Superior Council for Scientific Research (CSIC); and the University of Almería, through the Andalusian Center for Evaluation and Monitoring of Global Change.

This is a five year project (2015-2020).



Nature Lovers return mangroves to Pulau Dua

28 August 2017
KPAPPD builds semi permeable barriers in Pulau Dua. Photo: © IUCN Indonesia.

Each year, between March and August, migratory birds from three continents descend on an island in Indonesia in the tens of thousands, joining over 100 species of bird – among them kingfishers, terns, sandpipers, sunbirds, curlews and sea eagles – that nest permanently on the island. Well-known for its importance as a breeding site for water birds, Pulau Dua was established as a nature reserve in 1937. 

Mangroves act as a natural barrier between land and sea and prevent coastal erosion. They also provide shelter for marine wildlife.

Unfortunately,  in recent decades, much of Pulau Dua’s mangroves were cleared for shrimp farms. With coasts deteriorated, fish that had previously used the mangroves as spawning grounds had to lay their eggs elsewhere and other services provided by the mangroves – like wood, used for construction and cooking fires – were no longer available.

Udin is one of many fishermen in the area who suffered the aftermath. Seawater intrusion contaminated fresh water in his village and the lack of mangroves meant that he had to go far away from the shore to fish, reducing his income. To fulfill his basic needs, Udin was desperately looking for other jobs in nearby towns.

Udin repairs knots in the semi-permeable barrier that had come loose during recent heavy waves. Photo: © MFF IndonesiaUdin Realising that restoring mangrove forests would bring economic benefits to communities, like increased fish catches and mangrove branches for daily use, Udin and his friends teamed up with Pulau Dua Nature Reserve staff to plant mangroves on the coast. With limited resources, Udin and his friends hand-nurtured the mangroves, and after one year they were already protecting Pulau Dua Nature Reserve from harsh winds and waves.

This initiative, which Udin calls The Nature Lovers, or Kelompok Pecinta Alam Pulau Dua (KPAPPD), and their intent to restore mangrove forests did not go unnoticed. In 2013, KPAPPD, with the support of Wetlands International Indonesia (WII), started to plant mangroves along abandoned fish ponds which they used to cultivate milkfish and shrimp, a technique known as sylvo-fishery. In 2014, KPAPPD tried an innovative technique in the buffer zone of Pulau Dua; A semi-permeable barrier made of tree branches, sand bags and nets was set up to trap mud and sediment against the shore, providing a place for mangroves to grow.

Despite this success, KPAPPD could only protect a small part of the nature reserve, due to a limited budget. In February 2016, MFF provided KPAPPD with a grant to build semi permeable barriers on other parts of Pulau Dua. By November 2016, the sedimentation was almost one meter and 1,500 mangrove seedlings were planted in January 2017.

The wives of KPAPPD members and other women in the village also formed a group. They received training from MFF in fish cracker and milkfish stick production, and subsequently generated approximately US $118 per month from product sales. The women used this income to buy extra food for the family and pay their children’s tuition.

The mangrove restoration and sylvo-fishery has attracted eco-tourists and generated additional income for KPAPPD and Pulau Dua is becoming a learning site where local government and NGOs can learn how to make the semipermeable barriers. KPAPPD has also been invited to meetings and training events to share their mangrove restoration techniques and success stories.

Udin has boundless enthusiasm to improve local communities and the environment. “We can always do more with what we’ve got,” he says, “and the MFF programme activities have absolutely increased my passion for society and nature.” He and his group will continue building semi permeable barriers and restoring mangrove forest along the coastline of Pulau Dua. Udin will also continue to raise awareness about the importance of mangroves for the communities’ livelihoods. 

Mangroves for the Future (MFF) is a partnership-based regional initiative which promotes investment in coastal ecosystem conservation for sustainable development. MFF focuses on the role that healthy, well-managed coastal ecosystems play in building the resilience of ecosystem-dependent coastal communities in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Viet Nam. The initiative uses mangroves as a flagship ecosystem, but MFF is inclusive of all types of coastal ecosystem, such as coral reefs, estuaries, lagoons, sandy beaches, sea grasses, and wetlands. MFF is co-chaired by IUCN and UNDP and is funded by Danida, Norad, and Sida and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Thailand.



Blog: First Ever Gharial Exchange in Bangladesh: Facilitating Captive Breeding of a Critically Endangered Species

23 August 2017
Male gharial from Dhaka Zoo is being released in Rajshahi Zoo, 13 August 2017.Photo: ©Zenifar Azmiri/ IUCN.

Gharials are a unique crocodilian threatened with extinction and with wild populations that have decreased precipitously due to habitat destruction and accidental killings by fishermen when caught in nets. The Bangladesh Forest Department and IUCN Bangladesh, in collaboration with Bangladesh zoo authorities, have piloted a gharial exchange programme to initiate captive breeding in the country. This will create new scope for the conservation of gharials and possible reintroduction into the wild. In this blog post, Sakib Ahmed and Haseeb Md. Irfanullah of IUCN Bangladesh writes about this historic gharial exchange.

It is estimated that there are fewer than 200 gharials (Gavialis gangeticus) left in the wild and captive breeding and reintroduction is one of the most important conservation measures for the species right now. Currently, three zoos and one safari park in Bangladesh have a total of 12 captive gharials. Unfortunately, no captive breeding has taken place in Bangladesh as the males and females have been isolated at different institutions.

Male gharial (Gorai) from Dhaka Zoo just before its release in Rajshahi Zoo, 13 August 2017. Photo: ©Zenifar Azmiri / IUCNThe Bangladesh Forest Department, in collaboration with IUCN Bangladesh, has recently proposed the Gharial Conservation and Management Action Plan. One of the main components of the action plan is to facilitate captive breeding and reintroduction. Rajshahi Zoo had only female gharials and Dhaka Zoo had only males, so it was vital to have an exchange programme.

However, it took time to translate the plan into action. To formalise the process, it was necessary to bring together the zoos and park authorities and get the required government permissions. In April 2016, the Bangladesh Forest Department, IUCN Bangladesh and zoo authorities agreed that the first exchange would be between the Dhaka and Rajshahi zoos. All parties involved showed immense eagerness and determination to turn this into a reality.

Finally, after more than a year of formal procedures, the exchange was accomplished this monsoon amid huge excitement and enthusiasm. A female gharial named Padma was transferred from Rajshahi to Dhaka and a male called Gorai was transferred to Rajshahi’s breeding facility on 12 and 13 August 2017, respectively. The male will share the facility with two other female gharials.

Female gharial (Padma) from Rajshahi Zoo is being released in Dhaka Zoo, 12 August 2017. Photo: ©Haseeb Md. Irfanullah/IUCN.The breeding programme has thus been officially launched. It is a milestone in biodiversity and wildlife conservation in Bangladesh. While Bangladesh is known for captive breeding of other threatened species, like the Critically Endangered northern river terrapin turtle (Batagur baska), the gharial captive breeding initiative is exciting, because in Bangladesh, adult gharials are not found in the wild anymore and these two that were exchanged have been in captivity for more than 30 years.

The exchange and captive breeding programme reflects the commitment and determination of the government and conservationists to invest in this charismatic species. The safe transfer of such massive and highly threatened animals had been extremely labour-intensive and logistically difficult and developing the breeding facility required investment of resources and time.

Never before in the country has a conservation process created this much enthusiasm among the general public and media. Reports of this event have been published in every large national news outlets as well as some important international news portals.

Exchanged female (in the back) and male gharials at Dhaka Zoo, just before releasing the female gharial, 12 August 2017. Photo: ©Haseeb Md. Irfanullah/IUCN. Gharials usually start mating from November to January, and nesting occurs from March until May. So, if everything goes according to plan, the exchanged gharials will start to mate during the end of this year and hopefully will produce offspring by mid-2018. Everyone is enthusiastically waiting to see that happen.

This programme, if successful, will create new opportunities for the conservation of the species. A healthy captive population will mean possible reintroduction to the wild as hotspots have already been identified.  With proper management, we hope to bring the gharials back into our rivers.

As of now, both the exchanged gharials are healthy and there have been no complications.

This blog post was authored by Sakib Ahmed [@Sakib_A5], Programme Assistant for the project ‘Community-based Vulture Safe Zone Management in Bangladesh’ and Haseeb Md. Irfanullah [@hmirfanullah], Programme Coordinator of IUCN Bangladesh. A. B. M. Sarowar Alam [@shimanto_dipu] and Kazi Zenifar Azmiri [@ZeninAzmiri] of IUCN Bangladesh have contributed in this blog post.



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