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Eye on Earth set to overcome sustainable development data challenges at a critical time for decision makers

06 October 2015
Sandbanks in the Wadden Sea Netherlands
Photo: ESA

Abu Dhabi, 6 October 2015 - The second Eye on Earth Summit opened in Abu Dhabi today, with leaders of the Summit Alliance partner organisations highlighting the critical role the movement is playing in promoting dialogue and driving international action to help overcome the challenges associated with data to support informed decision-making for sustainable development.

Representing the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD), Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative (AGEDI), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and new partners Group on Earth Observations (GEO), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and World Resources Institute (WRI), these global thought leaders stressed the urgency of the need to foster a culture of collaboration and find global solutions to make environmental, social and economic data more available and accessible to achieve the global sustainable agenda.

"Global agreement this year on major intergovernmental commitments on sustainable development has brought into sharp focus the need for transparent, timely and accurate data and information on the state of the world's resources. These global agreements are creating a tipping point for the role of data in sustainable development and Eye on Earth will help to accelerate this transition," stated HE Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, Secretary General, EAD.

Tibesti Mountains Central Sahara. Photo: ESAIn September, the 17 new Sustainable Development Goals were unanimously adopted by 193 UN Member States. In March, the UN also adopted the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and in December the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21) will, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate change.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, "If good data drives better decisions, open data drives better collaboration. We will need both to meet the challenges of a sustainable future for our planet and its peoples. When information and knowledge are made accessible to everyone across the social spectrum, informed choices and decisions can be made at all levels that support the goals of sustainable development."

The Eye on Earth Alliance expects the 2015 Summit to drive further international action to revolutionise the way we collect, access, share and use data and information for sustainable development. Themed "Informed Decision-Making for Sustainable Development", delegates will aim to identify how governments, technology, the scientific community and citizen participation can enhance access to quality data and information.

"By harnessing the data revolution for sustainable development, we have an opportunity to create a real turning point in our modern environmental history. This Summit, and the wider efforts of the Eye on Earth Initiative, will help us to pool our collective intelligence and resources to protect the future of the planet and humanity," said Inger Andersen, Director General, IUCN.

"The global reach and contributions of the major organisations that currently represent the Eye on Earth Summit Alliance will bring significant momentum to the Eye on Earth movement as we work together in engaging many more actors in decisions that affect the health of the planet and all of its inhabitants," said Barbara Ryan, Secretariat Director of GEO.

Since its founding in 2011, Eye on Earth has seen its reach and impact grow. The eight Special Initiatives created to deliver the Eye on Earth mission have brought together more than 650,500 scientists, government officials, academics, NGOs and ordinary citizens through projects focused on data, data analytics and decision support systems to improve decision-making for sustainable development. Members of the Special Initiatives have identified an additional 120 projects to help close the data gap that currently hampers decision- and policy-making for sustainable development. These project proposals, some of which require funding, are being presented during Eye on Earth Summit 2015. They have also been made available to nations, funding organisations and interested philanthropists.

During the three-day Eye on Earth Summit, delegates will aim to reach consensus on several outcomes, including the formation of new partnerships, guidelines for the implementation of data governance frameworks and the promotion of new environmental data policies in countries where this is most needed.

"Good decisions start with good data, but decision makers often lack the tools to gather, understand and make use of the growing quantities of information now available to them," said Janet Ranganathan, Vice President for Science and Research at the World Resources Institute. "The Eye on Earth Summit aims to spark innovations in the way people collect, use, and share data to tackle the world's biggest challenges. Through Eye on Earth, we can help bridge the gap between governments, businesses, citizens and the data they need to make better decisions."

More information about the Eye on Earth Summit, speakers and new project proposals can be found at




Illegal trade contributes to placing cacti among world's most threatened species – IUCN Red List

05 October 2015
Eriosyce chilensis Photo © Pablo C. Guerrero

Gland, Switzerland, 5 October 2015 (IUCN) – Thirty-one percent of cactus species are threatened with extinction, according to the first comprehensive, global assessment of the species group by IUCN and partners, published today in the journal Nature Plants. This places cacti among the most threatened taxonomic groups assessed on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ - more threatened than mammals and birds.

According to the report, cacti are under increasing pressure from human activity, with more than half of the world’s 1,480 cactus species used by people. The illegal trade of live plants and seeds for the horticultural industry and private collections, as well as their unsustainable harvesting are the main threats to cacti, affecting 47% of threatened species.

“These findings are disturbing,” says Inger Andersen, IUCN Director General. “They confirm that the scale of the illegal wildlife trade – including trade in plants – is much greater than we had previously thought, and that wildlife trafficking concerns many more species than the charismatic rhinos and elephants which tend to receive global attention. We must urgently step up international efforts to tackle the illegal wildlife trade and strengthen the implementation of the CITES Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, if we want to prevent the further decline of these species.”

Other threats to cacti include smallholder livestock ranching affecting 31% of threatened species, and smallholder annual agriculture affecting 24% of threatened species. Residential and commercial development, quarrying and aquaculture – particularly shrimp farming, which expands into cacti’s habitats – are also among major threats faced by these species.

Cacti are key components of New World arid ecosystems and are critical to the survival of many animal species. They provide a source of food and water for many species including deer, woodrats, rabbits, coyotes, turkeys, quails, lizards and tortoises, all of which help with cactus seed dispersal in return. Cactus flowers provide nectar to hummingbirds and bats, as well as bees, moths and other insects, which, in turn, pollinate the plants.

Cactus species are widely used by people in the horticultural trade, as well as for food and for medicine. Their fruit and highly nutritious stems are an important food source for rural communities. The nutritional value of one cactus stem of Opuntia ficus-indica – a ‘prickly pear’ cactus popular in Mexico, where it is known as ‘nopal’ – is often compared to that of a beef steak, and the roots of species such as Ariocarpus kotschoubeyanus which is listed as Near Threatened, are used as anti-inflammatories.

Trade in cactus species occurs at national and international levels and is often illegal, with 86% of threatened cacti used in horticulture taken from wild populations. European and Asian collectors are the biggest contributors to the illegal cactus trade. Specimens taken from the wild are particularly sought after due to their rarity.

“The results of this assessment come as a shock to us,” says Barbara Goettsch, lead author of the study and Co-Chair of IUCN’s Cactus and Succulent Plant Specialist Group. “We did not expect cacti to be so highly threatened and for illegal trade to be such an important driver of their decline. Their loss could have far-reaching consequences for the diversity and ecology of arid lands and for local communities dependent on wild-harvested fruit and stems.”

“This study highlights the need for better and more sustainable management of cactus populations within range countries. With the current human population growth, these plants cannot sustain such high levels of collection and habitat loss.”

The illegal trade in cacti has been reduced to a certain extent by the inclusion, since 1975, of most cactus species on CITES appendices and through the increased availability of plants grown from seed on the international market. However, the threat of collection prevails, especially in countries where the implementation of CITES has only recently been enforced.

For example, the once-abundant Echinopsis pampana, endemic to the puna desert of Peru, has been collected illegally for the ornamental plant trade at such high rates that at least 50% of the population has disappeared in the last 15 years. Its loss is irreversible as the areas that were once populated by the species have since undergone land use change for housing purposes. The species is now listed as Endangered.

Cacti are renowned for their diverse forms and beautiful flowers. They are endemic to New World arid lands except for one species, Mistletoe Cactus (Rhipsalis baccifera), which is also found in southern Africa, Madagascar and Sri Lanka. Hotspots for threatened cactus species include arid areas of Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Uruguay. Theseareas are perceived as uncharismatic and unimportant, even though they are rich in biodiversity, hence arid-land species like cacti are often overlooked in conservation planning. The report’s authors highlight the need to broaden arid land protected area coverage and raise awareness about the importance of sustainable collection of cacti from the wild in order to better conserve the species.

“The startling results reflect the vital importance of funding and conducting assessments of the threatened status of all of the species in major groups of plants, such as the cacti,” says Kevin Gaston, from the University of Exeter, who co-led the Global Cactus Assessment. “Only by so doing will we gain the overall picture of what is happening to them, at a time when, as evidenced by the cacti, they may be under immense human pressures.”







Additional Notes:

“Cacti are extraordinary plants that concentrate water and nutrients used by natural and human communities, in some of the world’s most challenging environments,” says Mary Klein, President of NatureServe, an IUCN partner in facilitating assessments of North American and Caribbean cacti. “This study confirms that cactiare especially vulnerable, but that with focused attention on reducing the threats such as illegal harvest, we can conserve these miracles of nature for the future.”

• The sevenmost threatened taxonomic groups assessed on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ are cycads (63%), amphibians (41%), conifers (34%), warm-water reef building corals (33%), cacti (31%), mammals (25%) and birds (13%).

• Cacti are native to the New World but species have been introduced to Africa, Australia, and Europe. For example, prickly pears (Opuntia spp.) were introduced to Australia in the 19th century and have since then become invasive species, spreading throughout the Outback and outcompeting native flora.

• Agriculture is the most widespread threat to cacti, affecting species in large parts of northern Mexico, Mesoamerica and the southern part of South America. Cacti in coastal areas, such as the Caribbean and the Baja California peninsula in Mexico, are mainly affected by residential and commercial development. In southern Brazil, conversion of land for eucalyptus plantations is affecting at least 27 species, including the Endangered Parodia muricata.

• More than 30 species, such as the Critically Endangered Coleocephalocereus purpureus in eastern Brazil are affected by quarrying. Arrojadoa marylaniae, also listed as Critically Endangered, may go extinct in the near future, as the single white quartz rock on which it is exclusively found is threatened by mining.

• In the north-western part of Mexico, species such as the Critically Endangered Corynopuntia reflexispina are unexpectedly becoming threatened by aquaculture, as shrimp farming expands into the desert.


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Read the full paper: High proportion of cactus species threatened with extinction 




Updated African Elephant Database reveals declining elephant populations

28 September 2015
African Elephant (Loxodonta africana)
Photo: Esther Birchmeier

"Definite" plus "Probable" African Elephant numbers have decreased from approximately 550,000 to 470,000 between 2006 and 2013, according to the IUCN SSC African Elephant Specialist Group’s (AfESG) latest update of the African Elephant Database (AED). The AED is the repository of African Elephant survey data from range state governments, NGOs, and other sources of expertise.

These new data are viewable at, alongside information on the sources of the elephant number estimates, the areas they cover, and the various survey types represented.

This most recent update includes data from surveys that were conducted on or before 31 December 2013, and follows the longstanding, rigorous guidelines of the AfESG Data Review Working Group in categorizing elephant numbers as "Definite", "Probable", "Possible", and "Speculative". Though the AfESG continues to collect and enter data from 2014 and 2015, these data will not be integrated into the summary totals until processing and review procedures are completed.

While the decline in the number of "Definite" plus "Probable" elephants almost certainly reflects a genuine reduction in elephant populations, the picture varies across the sub-regions. The recorded number of "Definite" plus "Probable" elephants in Central Africa has changed little but this is because new populations (one of which has subsequently declined) were surveyed after 2006, so they were not included in the 2006 update. That the numbers stayed similar with the inclusion of these new areas supports the evidence for a decrease in the elephant population of Central Africa. In Eastern Africa, where a higher proportion of the populations have been surveyed, the decrease in numbers from 2006 to 2013 provides further substantiation of the many recent reports in the popular press.

Data from 2014, which have not yet been entered into the AED, show that several additional populations have also experienced devastating losses. The decline in elephant numbers appears to be primarily a result of increased ivory poaching pressure. Habitat loss and fragmentation due to landscape-level land use changes also pose significant immediate and long-term challenges to elephant conservation.

Despite these pressures and losses, the relative situation among the four sub-regions remains substantially the same as in 2006. Southern Africa continues to host the majority of the continent’s known elephants, and also has the largest proportion of elephant range compared to the other sub-regions. West Africa has the smallest range and the fewest elephants. Central Africa has a slightly larger range but many fewer "Definite" and "Probable" elephants than Eastern Africa, which also reflects the use and accuracy of different survey methodologies.

For the many conservation interventions being designed and implemented to protect the African Elephant and its habitat, the AED can serve as a vital monitoring tool. Data from the AED will be presented to policymakers at the next CITES Standing Committee meeting in January 2016, as the AfESG is mandated to report on the status of Africa’s elephants.

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Sumatran rhino likely to go extinct unless action is taken urgently, warns IUCN

22 September 2015
Sumatran Rhino
Photo: Bibhab Talukdar

With fewer than 100 Sumatran Rhinos surviving in the wild, the species will probably become extinct unless the Indonesian Government urgently implements the Sumatran Rhino recovery plan, warns IUCN on World Rhino Day. The remaining 100 Sumatran Rhinos represent less than half of the population size estimated during the last IUCN Red List assessment of the species in 2008.

Listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, the Sumatran Rhino is now presumed extinct in the wild in Malaysia, as announced last month in the journal Oryx. Over the last 50-100 years, the Sumatran Rhino has become extinct in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, India, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam. According to the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Asian Rhino Specialist Group, the Sumatran Rhino is now only found in a few sites in Sumatra, and only a handful of individuals are believed to survive in Kalimantan, Borneo.

“Malaysia was once regarded as one of the last strongholds for Sumatran Rhinos, thus losing them from this country presents a major blow to the survival prospects of the species,” says Simon Stuart, Chair of IUCN’s SSC. “With the ongoing poaching crisis, escalating population decline and destruction of suitable habitat, extinction of the Sumatran Rhino in the near future is becoming increasingly likely. The Indonesian Government urgently needs to develop intensive protection zones with significantly enhanced security enforcement in all sites where Sumatran Rhinos still occur.”

The initial catastrophic population decline in Sumatran Rhinos was primarily driven by poaching for use of horns in traditional medicine, coupled with continued habitat loss and infrastructure development, which has led to fragmentation of key forest habitats of the species. Today, the species’ populations are small and isolated, which lowers their breeding rate, adding to the ongoing threat from poaching. Unable to breed regularly, isolated females are at risk of developing tumours in their reproductive tracts leading to infertility and further exacerbating the decline.

Urgent measures for saving the Sumatran Rhino were agreed in October 2013 at the Asian Rhino Range States Meeting in Indonesia, and have since been used to develop a new recovery plan for the species. The Indonesian Government now needs to allocate funding for the implementation of the plan, and to ensure that a system is in place to make urgent, rapid and bold decisions as the plan is implemented, according to IUCN.

Alongside developing intensive protection zones and consolidating isolated animals into larger populations, managed breeding is one of several key strategies needed to save the species. As part of the global effort to save the Sumatran Rhino, a young male named Harapan, born at the Cincinnati Zoo, will join five other rhinos at the Sumatran Rhino mother and calf. Photo: Susie EllisSumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Sumatra’s Way Kambas National Park next month.

“It is hoped Harapan’s relocation will further accelerate conservation breeding of the species in captivity,” says Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, Chair of the IUCN SSC Asian Rhino Specialist Group. “But the long-term future of the species will ultimately be decided by the actions of the Indonesian Government and civil society. We need effective collaboration between government Sumatran Rhino. Photo: David Ellis CC BY-NC-ND 2.0agencies and conservation institutions, allocation of significant funds by the Indonesian Government and international donors, as well as strengthened support from the public.”

The Sumatran Rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) is the most threatened of all rhino species due to its rapid rate of decline. It is also the smallest and the hairiest species and the only Asian rhino species with two horns.

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Over 300 conservation experts meet to tackle extinction crisis

15 September 2015
The 2015 SSC Leaders' Meeting brings together over 300 conservation experts
Photo: EAD

The third IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Leaders’ Meeting kicked off today in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. This meeting brings together over 300 conservationists with diverse expertise to address how global conservation efforts can be improved to halt the alarming rate of biodiversity loss.

Supported by the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD), the 2015 Leaders’ Meeting will run from 15-18 September. The IUCN Species Survival Commission is the largest of IUCN’s Commissions, with over 10,000 expert members from almost every country. With over 140 Specialist Groups, Red List Authorities, Sub-Committees and Task Forces specializing on diverse groups of animals, plants, and fungi, as well as on a range of topical conservation issues, the work of the SSC is central to the core mission and conservation goals of IUCN as a whole.

“We are incredibly grateful to the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi (EAD) for supporting this meeting,” said SSC Chair Simon Stuart. “The congregation of this many wildlife experts provides an invaluable opportunity to share expertise and to work together to develop ambitious plans in our continued fight against the global extinction crisis.”

The meeting provides a platform for the leadership of the SSC to share knowledge and experience; to assess the effectiveness of the SSC’s actions on biodiversity Inger Andersen, IUCN Director General. Photo: EADconservation and consider how this can be increased; and to develop major new initiatives to address critical conservation issues. There will also be an opportunity for the SSC to prepare its own input into the planning of the 2017-2020 IUCN Programme, which will include the 2017-2020 IUCN Species Strategic Plan.

“The migratory nature of many of the species that we are striving to protect, and the global nature of the Simon Stuart, SSC Chair. Photo: EADenvironmental challenges that we are trying to combat indicate that knowledge-sharing and following best practices are critical ingredients for success,” said EAD Secretary General H.E. Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak who opened the meeting.

The SSC is the driving force behind The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, providing data and analyses on more than 77,000 species to inform conservation action.HE Razan Al Mubarak, EAD Secretary General. Photo: EAD

“The IUCN Species Survival Commission is a strong collective force, bringing the knowledge and energy that is needed to address the pressures that our environment is under,” said IUCN Director General Inger Andersen. “The broader conservation community rely on this powerful science-based knowledge to move forward the conservation agenda.”





More Slender-snouted Crocodiles thanks to improved captive-breeding in Abidjan National Zoo

11 September 2015
Female breeder in improved enclosure
Photo: Matt Shirley

“Now, at the beginning of our third breeding season here at the Abidjan National Zoo we’re incubating 110 eggs – that’s almost 50% more than 2014!” says Dr. Matt Shirley. Project coordinator with SOS Grantee Rare Species Conservatory Foundation (RSCF), Matt explains the higher figures are most certainly a result of better daily care resulting in reduced stress, and an improved food supply for these Critically Endangered crocodiles. The role of training and the dedication of a team of Zoo personnel and volunteers cannot be underestimated in the project’s progress so far.

Rewind to 2013, when Project Mecistops’ captive-breeding programme started at the Zoo, it lacked the basic equipment and facilities to perform. The prognosis for Slender-snouted Crocodiles in the region was bleak however - a recent survey had counted 49 wild individuals, just three of which were adults.

Mecistops cataphractus juvenile. Photo: Matt ShirleyThe difficult decision was taken to pull eggs from nests in the Zoo. “We improvised using Styrofoam coolers in a volunteer’s home as incubators. Of the 78 eggs collected, three hatched and none survived”.

Regrouping for the following year, Shirley brought in US-based crocodile specialists. First, a climate-controlled incubator was constructed out of an old refrigerator. Captive crocodile specialist Matt Eschenbrenner from Albuquerque BioPark, New Mexico, trained the Abidjan keeper team in Twenty three eggs recovered from this one nest. Photo: Matt Shirleyincubation techniques including establishing a data collection protocol. Of the 84 eggs recovered 29 were fertile and 23 hatched viable baby cataphractus.

In July 2014, specialist keeper Cody Bartolini from the St. Augustine Alligator Farm, Florida arrived in Abidjan to work with the crocodile keeper team on hatchling care and maintenance. As a result of the combined incubation and care training, 18 of the 23 crocodiles from 2014 continue to Some of the 110 eggs from 2015 in incubation. Photo: Matt Shirleythrive nearly a year later.

Meanwhile the 2015 breeding season began in April and the crocodile keepers maintained vigilance for telltale signs of egg deposition: paths leading to mounds of leaves and soil. Two weeks later they uncovered the first two clutches. “Two females had laid in the same nest: one laying 23 eggs and the other, presumably one of our smaller females laying ten“. That was the start of the bumper harvest for 2015 and Round the clock egg care improves survival chances within the captive breeding programme. Photo: Matt Shirleythe team's hopes of higher hatch and survival rates vis a vis 2014's figures.

None of this would be possible however without the hard work of the Zoo team and the many stakeholders and volunteers continually working to improve the facilities and animal husbandry practices, asserts Matt. This joint effort is helping to ensure the success of Project Mecistops’ captive-breeding and release programme and the future of one of Africa’s most enigmatic species.

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