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Four out of six great apes one step away from extinction – IUCN Red List

04 September 2016
Eastern Gorilla. Critically Endangered. Photo: © Intu Boedhihartono

Honolulu, Hawaiʻi, 4 September 2016 (IUCN) – The Eastern Gorilla – the largest living primate – has been listed as Critically Endangered due to illegal hunting, according to the latest update of The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ released today at the IUCN World Conservation Congress taking place in Hawaiʻi. Four out of six great ape species are now Critically Endangered – only one step away from going extinct – with the remaining two also under considerable threat of extinction.

Today’s IUCN Red List update also reports the decline of the Plains Zebra due to illegal hunting, and the growing extinction threat to Hawaiian plants posed by invasive species. Thirty eight of the 415 endemic Hawaiian plant species assessed for this update are listed as Extinct and four other species have been listed as Extinct in the Wild, meaning they only occur in cultivation.

The IUCN Red List now includes 82,954 species of which 23,928 are threatened with extinction.

Mammals threatened by illegal hunting

The Eastern Gorilla (Gorilla beringei) – which is made up of two subspecies - has moved from Endangered to Critically Endangered due to a devastating population decline of more than 70% in 20 years. Its population is now estimated to be fewer than 5,000. Grauer’s Gorilla (G. b. graueri), one subspecies of Eastern Gorilla – has lost 77% of its population since 1994, declining from 16,900 individuals to just 3,800 in 2015. Killing or capture of great apes is illegal; yet hunting represents the greatest threat to Grauer’s Gorillas. The second subspecies of Eastern Gorilla – the Mountain Gorilla (G. b. beringei) –is faring better and has increased in number to around 880 individuals. Four of the six great apes - Eastern Gorilla, Western Gorilla, Bornean Orangutan and Sumatran Orangutan - are now listed as Critically Endangered, whilst the Chimpanzee and Bonobo are listed as Endangered.

“To see the Eastern gorilla – one of our closest cousins – slide towards extinction is truly distressing,” says Inger Andersen, IUCN Director General. “We live in a time of tremendous change and each IUCN Red List update makes us realize just how quickly the global extinction crisis is escalating. Conservation action does work and we have increasing evidence of it. It is our responsibility to enhance our efforts to turn the tide and protect the future of our planet.”

Plains Zebra Near Threatened. Photo: © Jean-Christophe ViéThe once widespread and abundant Plains Zebra (Equus quagga) has moved from Least Concern to Near Threatened. The population has reduced by 24% in the past 14 years from around 660,000 to a current estimate of just over 500,000 animals. In many countries Plains Zebra are only found in protected areas, yet population reductions have been recorded in 10 out of the 17 range states since 1992. The Plains Zebra is threatened by hunting for bushmeat and skins, especially when they move out of protected areas.

Bay Duiker Near Threatened. Photo: Brent Huffman.Three species of antelope found in Africa – Bay Duiker (Cephalophus dorsalis), White-bellied Duiker (Cephalophus leucogaster) and Yellow-backed Duiker (Cephalophus silvicultor) – have moved from Least Concern to Near Threatened. Whilst the populations of these species within protected areas are relatively stable, those found in other areas are decreasing due to continued illegal hunting and habitat loss. 

“Illegal hunting and habitat loss are still major threats driving many mammal species towards extinction,” says Carlo Rondinini, Coordinator of the mammal assessment at Sapienza University of Rome “We have now reassessed nearly half of all mammals. While there are some successes to celebrate, this new data must act as a beacon to guide the conservation of those species which continue to be under threat.”

Hawaiian plants threatened by invasive species

Invasive species such as pigs, goats, rats, slugs, and non-native plants are destroying the native flora in Hawai’i. The latest results show that of the 415 endemic Hawaiian plant species assessed so far for The IUCN Red List (out of ca. 1,093 endemic plant species), 87% are threatened with extinction, including the Endangered 'Ohe kiko'ola (Polyscias waimeae) – a beautiful flowering tree found only on the island of Kauaʻi. Thirty Eight have been listed as Extinct, including the shrubs 'Oha Wai (Cyanea eleeleensis) and Hibiscadelphus woodii. Four species have been listed as Extinct in the Wild including the Haha (Cyanea superba) last seen in the wild in 2003. Invasive species are the main threat to all of these species, with many being threatened by more than one invasive species. The IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Hawaiian Plant Specialist Group anticipates the remaining species to be assessed will also be highly threatened.

“Hawaiʻi is an example of nature at its best with spectacular examples of evolution, yet it is facing an uncertain future due to the impact of invasive species - showing how unwittingly, human actions can make nature turn against itself,” says Matt Keir, a member of the IUCN SSC Hawaiian Plant Specialist Group. “What we see happening in Hawaiʻi is foretelling what will happen in other island or contained ecological systems. Hawaiʻi and other nations must take urgent action to stop the spread of invasive species and to protect species with small population sizes”

The Critically Endangered flowering Haha plant Cyanea remyi, is one of the 105 extremely rare Hawai’ian plant species on the Red List with less than 50 mature individuals. Alula (Brighamia insignis) has moved from Critically Endangered to Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct in the Wild), and is one of 38 Red Listed species with less than five individuals remaining. The Alula has been so impacted by invasive species and landslides, that only one plant remained in the wild in 2014 and it has not been seen since.

This new data will be used to influence action such as listing species on the US Endangered Species Act which will assist in securing funding for conservation programs to target and control invasive species, and to fence wild areas to protect them from large mammals. Improved biosecurity to stop invasive species entering the country is essential, according to IUCN experts.

Good news for Giant Panda and Tibetan Antelope

This update of The IUCN Red List also brings some good news and shows that conservation action is delivering positive results.

Giant Panda. Vulnerable. Photo: Martha de Jong-Lantink.Previously listed as Endangered, The Giant Panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is now listed as Vulnerable, as its population has grown due to effective forest protection and reforestation. The improved status confirms that the Chinese government's efforts to conserve this species are effective. However, climate change is predicted to eliminate more than 35% of the Panda's bamboo habitat in the next 80 years and thus Panda population is projected to decline, reversing the gains made during the last two decades. To protect this iconic species, it is critical that the effective forest protection measures are continued and that emerging threats are addressed. The Chinese government's plan to expand existing conservation policy for the species is a positive step and must be strongly supported to ensure its effective implementation.

Tibetan Antelope. Near Threatened. Photo: Ahsup.Due to successful conservation actions, the Tibetan Antelope (Pantholops hodgsonii) has moved from Endangered to Near Threatened. The population underwent a severe decline from around one million to an estimated 65,000-72,500 in the 1980s and early 1990s. This was the result of commercial poaching for the valuable underfur – shahtoosh – which is used to make shawls. It takes 3-5 hides to make a single shawl, and as the wool cannot be sheared or combed, the animals are killed. Rigorous protection has been enforced since then, and the population is currently likely to be between 100,000 and 150,000.

Greater Stick-nest Rat. Near Threatened. Photo: Hj Aslin.Other conservation successes include the Greater Stick-nest Rat (Leporillus conditor), endemic to Australia, which has improved status, moving from Vulnerable to Near Threatened. This is due to a successful species recovery plan, which has involved reintroductions and introductions to predator-free areas. This unique nest-building rodent is the last of its kind, with its smaller relative the Lesser Stick-nest Rat (Leporillus apicalis) having died out in the Twentieth Century. The resin created by the rats to build their nests is so strong that they can last for thousands of years if they are not exposed to water.

Bridled Nailtail Wallaby. Vulnerable. Photo: Fraenata Diverdave.The Bridled Nailtail Wallaby (Onychogalea fraenata), has also improved in status, having moved from Endangered to Vulnerable. Endemic to Australia, this once common species had a dramatic population decline during the 19th and early 20th centuries due to the impacts of invasive species and habitat loss. A successful translocation conservation programme establishing new populations within protected areas is enabling this species to commence the long road to recovery.

Yesterday, IUCN, its Species Survival Commission, and nine Red List partner institutions forged an exciting new commitment to support The IUCN Red List. These organizations will jointly commit more than US$10 million over the next five years towards achieving an ambitious strategic plan that aims to double the number of species assessed on The IUCN Red List by the year 2020. The institutions include: Arizona State University; BirdLife International; Botanic Gardens Conservation International; Conservation International; NatureServe; Royal Botanic Gardens Kew; Sapienza University of Rome; Texas A&M University and the Zoological Society of London.

Quotes from IUCN Red List partners

 “The world is changing fast and dramatically. Now more than ever, amid the updates to the Red List, it’s crucial to identify and track the elements of nature that need protection the most,” says Dr M Sanjayan from Conservation International.  “Monitoring the diversity of life is a fundamental part of all our efforts to understand the changes happening on our planet and focusing our conservation efforts so that people and nature can thrive"

"The newly added plant species from Hawaii show the importance of continuing to produce conservation assessments in order for us to better prioritise species in need of conservation action,” says Malin Rivers, BGCI.  “This work has highlighted some species at extremely high risk of extinction and the main threats to the iconic Hawaiian flora, which gives the conservation community an opportunity to take conservation action, both in situ and ex situ, to save these unique plants."

“BirdLife is delighted to continue our role as a key member of the Red List Partnership and as the Red List Authority for birds,” says BirdLife’s CEO, Patricia Zurita. “We are committed to helping ensure that the Red List remains the best source of reliable information on the conservation status of species.”

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News Releases

A unified voice for African rhinos: Continent-wide conservation plan launched

28 September 2016
Photo: © Richard Emslie

African rhino conservation has seen a major boost this week with the launch of the continent-wide African Rhino Conservation Plan, led by South Africa and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Species Survival Commission’s African Rhino Specialist Group (IUCN SSC AfRSG).

The plan focuses on areas where African rhino range states can work together to enhance rhino conservation, such as sharing and analysing intelligence information, re-establishing rhino across boundaries, and enhancing effective funding for conservation. It does not seek to duplicate existing national plans, but rather complement them.

South Africa's Minister of the Environment, Edna Molewa, said: "I am very pleased that all eleven African rhino range states actively participated in developing this important continental plan, and hope it further enhances collaboration between range states for the good of our rhino.”

Black rhino, Tanzania. Photo: © Richard EmslieInitiated two years ago by South Africa, the plan was developed at three range state meetings held in South Africa and facilitated by IUCN SSC AfRSG Chair Dr Mike Knight and Scientific Officer Dr Richard Emslie. All 11 African rhino range states– Botswana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe – as well as a previous range state, Angola, participated in its development.

The plan, which was announced at the ongoing 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES CoP17) in Johannesburg, aims to ensure continental rhino numbers increase over the next five years, with a longer term vision to have secure, viable, and valued rhino populations across the African landscape.

Reported rhino poaching has increased continentally for six consecutive years from 2009 to 2015, with just over 6,000 rhinos poached since 2006.

“Poaching and trafficking are driven by transnational organised crime syndicates, so combatting them requires international cooperation. This continental plan should strengthen cooperation between African rhino range states in combatting poaching,” said Richard Emslie, IUCN SSC AfRSG Scientific Officer.

However, there is concern that the necessary increasing militarisation of anti-poaching efforts may be negatively affecting relations with neighbouring communities. Poachers are also often being recruited from poor rural areas where there are few prospects for formal economic empowerment and jobs.

Dehorned black rhinos, South Africa. Photo: © Richard EmslieUltimately, the success of wildlife both outside and inside protected areas depends on the attitude of local people, which is why socio-economics was included as one of the plan components. Namibia’s Minister of the Environment, Mr Pohamba Shifeta, emphasised that the more local people can be incentivised to conserve and benefit from rhinos and other wildlife, the better for conservation.

Range states have voiced support for the development of an African Rhino Fund to facilitate the funding of identified continental priority conservation projects. Rhino conservation is very expensive, with rhino protection costs in South Africa currently around $1,650 per rhino per year, for example.

The CEO of Swaziland's Big Game Parks, Ted Reilly, welcomed the plan's proposed exploration and development of financing mechanisms and structures, noting that "conservation without money is just conversation".

To date, the plan has already been approved by eight range states and it is hoped that the other three will also soon approve it.  In addition to the dignitaries from South Africa, Namibia and Swaziland, the Director General of Kenya Wildlife Services, Botswana’s Deputy Director of Parks and Wildlife, and an Angolan Conservation Director were also among the speakers lending their support to the plan. 



Our Red List Species Assessors: Keeping up to speed with snails and slugs, an interview with Ben Rowson

28 September 2016
Photo: Ben Rowson

Terrestrial molluscs, which include snails and slugs, are prey to a large variety of animals, and provide important ecological functions such as soil and compost formation. In this interview with Dr Ben Rowson, a terrestrial mollusc expert based in Cardiff, Wales, he talks about his work and involvement with terrestrial mollusc research and conservation.

Photo: Ben RowsonThis is the third of a series of interviews with our Red List Species Assessors currently involved in IUCN’s European Red Lists LIFE project.  Our interviewee is a terrestrial mollusc expert, but future interviews will profile beetle, moss, fern, and other plant experts. The project aims to assess the extinction risk of these species groups, and will contribute to guiding policy decisions and conservation actions at the European level. Read past interviews of this series here and here.

Dr Rowson’s interest in invertebrates was piqued at a young age. “I became a keen natural history person from an early age and didn’t grow out of it. I was particularly fascinated by shells as a kid, their form and variety. It becomes immediately obvious that some are very common and you can find them all over the place, whereas others are much rarer.”

Dr Rowson studied Entomology at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and later did his PhD at Cardiff University on tropical carnivorous snails. His studies led to his job as Curator of terrestrial molluscs at the Department of Natural Sciences of the National Museum of Wales. “Slugs and snails are closely related to one another, as slugs are actually a highly advanced and evolved type of snail. There are slugs and snails all over the world and in all environments from deserts to high mountain tops. Because they are slow moving they tend to be restricted to small areas, sometimes just a few square kilometres and for that reason there are a lot of endemic species.”

Photo: Ben RowsonMuseum researchers with access to vast collections of terrestrial molluscs from all around the world have a critical role to play in increasing our knowledge about this group and in describing new species to science. They can also work to increase capacity in developing countries. “My predecessor at the museum, Mary Seddon, was involved in setting up a project involving capacity building in East Africa, where we used the mollusc collections here in the UK to develop better skills in East African countries like Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda and to help those countries understand their biodiversity better.”

Terrestrial molluscs vary enormously in size, from large African carnivorous snails to species you would need a microscope to see, and field work methods depend on the size of your target species. “Terrestrial molluscs are not the most difficult thing to catch, but finding their exact microhabitat can be very challenging. Many species are extremely small - you might need to use special techniques to get them. For example, by collecting the leaf litter of a shady forest and then running that through a series of sieves you would be able to find the tiniest snails. On the other hand, some of them are large enough that you can find them easily with a torch at night or by setting up traps.”

Photo: Ben RowsonSnails and slugs have important functions such as soil and compost formation and are also prey to a large variety of animals, from other invertebrates to birds and mammals. Dr Ben Rowson is currently assessing the extinction risk of a selection of British and Irish slugs as part of the LIFE project, which is assessing the extinction risk of all European terrestrial molluscs. “Generally speaking, many species are found in undisturbed habitats. Places like old forests, unimproved grasslands and large undrained wetlands. Anything that has a major impact on those habitats will kill molluscs by the millions. They are not necessarily rare in terms of numbers, but they are often restricted in their distribution and habitat. They are also threatened by the use of molluscicides and by invasive species, which can compete with them and take over their habitat, making the native species rarer.”

According to Dr Rowson, there is still a huge knowledge deficit about the threats facing terrestrial molluscs and the potential options to mitigate those threats. Some species have declined or disappeared from large areas and the reasons for their disappearance remain unknown. “The Heath Snail (Helicella itala) used to be very common in short grassland, but has become much less common over the 20th Century and it is very difficult to find now. No one is really sure why.”

Other terrestrial molluscs are only known to us from specimens in museums, and a shell can be all that is left of a snail species. “More molluscs have gone extinct in historic times than mammals, birds and reptiles put together – which is why the first thing you need is to have a decent inventory of what species are out there and to know to what extent they are threatened, such as the IUCN European Red List of Threatened Species. The good news is that many invertebrates will respond well to measures taken to help protect their habitats.”

As for Dr Rowson’s favourite terrestrial mollusc: “Arianta arbustorum – it is not a rare species, but has an attractive shell which looks like polished wood, and it reminds me of the pews of the church where I used to go when I was a kid.”



IUCN behind major advance for seahorse conservation

28 September 2016
Tiger-tail seahorse (Hippocampus comes) on coral. Photo: © Peter van den Eynde / Guylian Seahorses of the World

Thailand, the world’s largest exporter of seahorses, decided on Friday to end seahorse exports until it can address the threats they pose to wild populations. The decision followed 22 years of work on the issue by IUCN SSC’s Seahorse, Pipefish and Stickleback Specialist Group (SSC SPS SG), and was announced just before the ongoing 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Project Seahorse*, which acts as the IUCN SSC SPS SG, first discovered the nature and scale of the seahorse trade in Thailand and generated CITES’ global restrictions on trade in seahorse species in 2002, ultimately leading to Thailand’s decision to suspend trade. 

“Our team is glad to have played a major role in assisting Thailand to tackle this important conservation issue head on.  We’re also eager to help move Thailand’s fisheries and exports of seahorses towards sustainability,” said Prof. Amanda Vincent, Chair of the IUCN SSC SPS SG and Director of Project Seahorse.

Dried seahorses for sale in Hong Kong. Photo: © Tyler Stiem/Project SeahorseAt the request of CITES, the IUCN SSC SPS SG had worked with Thailand’s Department of Fisheries on tools and approaches for export management, and was granted a national research permit to study Thailand’s seahorse populations, fisheries and trades. The group then shared its findings with the government of Thailand to help it progress on trade regulation.

The trade suspension means that the country will stop exporting seahorses for several years, but may one day return to international trade in seahorses.

“Sustainable use offers more potential for long-term conservation than blanket bans,” Prof. Vincent explained.  “Buy-in from the people who depend on a resource is vital to engender compliance with regulations.”

Thailand has so far exported dried seahorses sourced in the wild, almost all of which are used in traditional Chinese medicine.

Amanda Vincent discovering the extent of the seahorse trade 20 years ago in Behai, China. Photo: © Amanda Vincent / Project SeahorseThe country is the source of more than three-quarters of the seahorses in international trade each year.  Official CITES data show that Thailand has exported about 5 million dried seahorses per year since 2004, although Project Seahorse trade surveys indicate that the number is likely to be much higher. Thai fishers capture the great majority of seahorses by accident in non-selective fishing gear such as bottom trawls, which scrape the ocean floor, taking everything in their path, and gillnets.  Such capture will not be ended by an export suspension.

While welcoming the trade suspension, Prof. Vincent warned that persistent threats to seahorses, including bottom trawling and the degradation of their inshore marine habitats, will need to be addressed with effective protection of large areas of the ocean.  She added that Thailand will need to pay attention to the possibility of illegal trade, given that capture will continue.

* Project Seahorse, a conservation partnership between the University of British Columbia, Canada, and the Zoological Society of London, acts as the SSC SPS SG.



Kering, ITC and IUCN release new data on the sustainability and livelihood benefits of python trade

24 September 2016
Photo: iStockphoto and Shutterstock

Three new reports published today by the Python Conservation Partnership (PCP), a partnership between Kering, the International Trade Centre (ITC) and the Species Survial Commission Boa and Python Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), reveal that the wild harvesting and farming of pythons is ecologically sustainable and results in socioeconomic benefits for poor households in South-East Asia. Initially presented yesterday at the Conference of the Parties to CITES (CoP17) in Johannesburg, South Africa, the “Sustainable Management of the Trade in Reticulated Python Skins in Indonesia and Malaysia", “Trade in Python Skins: Impact on Livelihoods in Viet Nam” and “Trade in Python Skins: Impact on Livelihoods in Peninsular Malaysia” reports represent the culmination of three years of scientific research and signify the completion of the research phase of the PCP.

  • Three new reports show the sustainability of python farming and wild harvesting and the trade’s positive impact on local livelihoods
  • Reports are first in the industry to provide science-based data and recommendations to improve sustainability of the python skin trade
  • Next phase of the Python Conservation Partnership is broader industry inclusion and luxury sector adoption

Python skin. Photo: ShutterstockThe PCP has undertaken research projects since its creation in 2013 to measure the socioeconomic benefits of the trade in python skins in South-East Asia, as well as the sustainability of wild harvesting and the economic viability of python farming. The PCP has also supported training for those engaged in the trade and has tested methods to verify the source of pythons and improve the traceability of skins. Following the partnership’s first report published in 2014, on the feasibility of farming pythons - “Assessment of Python Breeding Farms Supplying the International High-end Leather Industry” - the peer-reviewed reports published today reveal the importance of the trade for the livelihoods of people in Malaysia and Viet Nam and offer detailed recommendations to improve the monitoring and management of the trade overall. Key findings include:

  • Wild harvest of pythons is ecologically sustainable in Sumatra, Indonesia;
  • Management of the trade through size limits, ongoing monitoring of harvested snakes and capacity development of key actors will contribute to sustainable trade; and
  • In both wild harvest and captive farming in Malaysia and Viet Nam, the trade improves livelihood resilience by giving poor households the opportunity to increase and diversify income.

In addition to these reports, the PCP has developed technical documents to be published later this year on using novel techniques to verify the provenance of python skins. The PCP will also release guidance on best practices for animal welfare and management in python farms and processing facilities. These guidelines will initially be implemented and tested in Kering’s supply chain to help refine them. In 2017, the PCP will enter into a new phase, opening up the partnership to a broader group of stakeholders in the python trade, with the goal of implementing positive and durable change in the industry.  

Python and python skins. Photo: iStockphoto and Shutterstock“The PCP is an excellent example of new and multi-disciplinary collaborative models driving real, positive change towards sustainability,” said Marie-Claire Daveu, Chief Sustainability Officer and Head of International Institutional Affairs at Kering, “Information and transparency in the python trade was lacking and we all required more guidance to ensure a robust and sustainable trade. After 3 years of research we are very pleased to open-source the results of this important new research with ITC and IUCN. We are confident that this will improve the trade and Kering is proud to support the expert recommendations in our supply chains.“  

“These studies demonstrate that trade in biodiversity is a credible strategy for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals,” said ITC Executive Director Arancha González. “ITC will continue to work with IUCN and the fashion industry to find innovative ways to promote the sustainable use of flora and fauna and to improve the livelihoods of the world’s poorest people.”

"It is extremely encouraging to see the extraordinary progress made by Kering, the International Trade Centre and IUCN – three organisations with different visions, working collaboratively to achieve a common goal," says Tomás Waller, Chair of the IUCN/SSC Boa and Python Specialist Group. "The results of the Python Conservation Partnership's research and successful collaboration show that it is indeed possible to enhance sustainable use of pythons while at the same time providing livelihood benefits for local communities participating in the trade."

“We welcome this work showing the benefits of python skin trade to rural communities, as well as the depth of engagement with the private sector in making sure that the global value chain is put onto a better and more sustainable footing,” said John E. Scanlon, Secretary-General Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). “This work will benefit both the species and the rural communities. We hope more private sector entities join initiatives such as those being pioneered here by the PCP.” 



Poaching behind worst African elephant losses in 25 years – IUCN report

23 September 2016
Photo: Julian Blanc

Africa’s overall elephant population has seen the worst declines in 25 years, mainly due to poaching over the past ten years – according to IUCN’s African Elephant Status Report launched today at the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa.Africa’s overall elephant population has seen the worst declines in 25 years, mainly due to poaching – according to IUCN’s African Elephant Status Report launched today at the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The report is an authoritative source of knowledge about the numbers and distribution of African elephant populations across their 37 range states in sub-Saharan Africa.

Counting Kruger elephant herd. Photo: Ian WhyteIt presents more than 275 new or updated estimates for individual elephant populations across Africa, with over 180 of these arising from systematic surveys. The report summarises – for the first time in almost a decade – elephant numbers at the continental, regional and national levels, and examines changes in population estimates at the site level.

Based on population estimates from a wide range of sources – including aerial surveys and elephant dung counts – the estimates for 2015 are 93,000 lower than in 2006. However, this figure includes 18,000 from previously uncounted populations. Therefore, the real decline from estimates is considered to be closer to 111,000. The continental total is now thought to be about 415,000 elephants, although there may be an additional 117,000 to 135,000 elephants in areas not systematically surveyed.

The surge in poaching for ivory that began approximately a decade ago – the worst that Africa has experienced since the 1970s and 1980s – has been the main driver of the decline, while habitat loss poses an increasingly serious, long-term threat to the species, according to the report.

Forest Elephant, Conkouati-Douli National Park, Republic of  Congo. Photo: Hilde Vanleeuwe (WCS)“These new numbers reveal the truly alarming plight of the majestic elephant – one of the world's most intelligent animals and the largest terrestrial mammal alive today,” says IUCN Director General Inger Andersen. “It is shocking but not surprising that poaching has taken such a dramatic toll on this iconic species. This report provides further scientific evidence of the need to scale up efforts to combat poaching. Nevertheless, these efforts must not detract from addressing other major and increasingly devastating threats such as habitat loss.”

With over 70% of the estimated African elephants, Southern Africa has by far the largest number of the species – approximately 293,000 elephants in systematically surveyed areas. Eastern Africa holds about 86,000 (20%) estimated elephants, while Central Africa has about 24,000 estimated elephants (6%). West Africa continues to hold the smallest regional population with approximately 11,000 (under 3%). 

Eastern Africa – the region most affected by poaching – has experienced an almost 50% elephant population reduction, largely attributed to an over 60% decline in Tanzania’s elephant population. Although some sites have recorded declines, elephant numbers have been stable or increasing since 2006 in Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda, and range expansion has been reported in Kenya.

Aerial view of the forests of Salonga National Park, DRC. Photo: Fiona MaiselsCentral Africa’s forest elephant population has been substantially affected by poaching for ivory, since the 1990s. The Democratic Republic of Congo used to hold one of the most significant forest elephant populations in Africa, which has now been reduced to tiny remnants of its former size. Gabon and Congo now hold Africa’s most important forest elephant populations but both have been affected by heavy poaching in recent years, as have the forest and savannah populations of Cameroon. The savanna populations of Chad have taken heavy losses and those in the Central African Republic have almost completely disappeared.

West Africa’s elephant populations are mostly small, fragmented and isolated with 12 populations reported as lost since 2006 in Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone, Togo, Guinea and Nigeria. The elephant population in the trans-frontier “WAP” complex that straddles the border between Benin, Burkina Faso and Niger remains the strong-hold of West Africa’s elephant population.

While poaching has not had the same impact in Southern Africa as in other areas, the region is now also facing the emergence of a growing poaching threat. Population declines have been observed in Mozambique and some areas in Zimbabwe, while major populations in Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe are stable or increasing, and there is evidence of elephant range expansion in Botswana. There is still uncertainty about the size of the KAZA trans-frontier elephant population – the single largest on the continent – and it remains critical to undertake a coordinated survey of this population.

Elephants, Amboseli National Park, Kenya. Photo: Julian Blanc“This is the first time since 2006 that we have produced an African elephant status report with a continent-wide update and analysis of elephant numbers and distribution,” says Holly Dublin, Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s African Elephant Specialist Group (AfESG) who led the preparation of the report. “This report highlights how important it is to regularly monitor, assess and analyse the status of the African elephant. Understanding population numbers and their distribution is crucial in order to recognise threats faced by the species, target conservation actions and assess their effectiveness. This has been possible thanks to the IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group's incredible network of experts and partners.”

Estimates for savanna populations across the continent have improved in both reliability and coverage and many forest populations in Central Africa have been surveyed for the first time.

“This report not only provides information on the changes in elephant numbers but, because it is spatial, it also shows where these changes are occurring,” says first author of the report Chris Thouless, Chair of the AfESG’s Data Review Working Group. “It tracks many elephant populations over time at the site level, allowing us to learn more about why elephant populations are lost or persist in certain areas. This detailed information is essential for understanding what is driving changes in elephant populations.”

Elephants in Samburu National Park, Kenya. Photo: Julian Blanc.The report has been produced by the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s African Elephant Specialist Group, in partnership with Vulcan Inc, a Paul G. Allen company, and Kenya-based charity Save the Elephants. It draws on data from the African Elephant Database of the IUCN African Elephant Specialist Group, which is the most comprehensive spatial database on the status of any wide-ranging mammal species in the wild.

Supporting quotes

"Vulcan and Paul Allen are proud to have helped produce the first AfESR in almost ten years through the Great Elephant Census and sponsorship of the report's production," said Tony Banbury, Chief Philanthropic Officer at Vulcan Inc.  "I congratulate IUCN on this invaluable report card on efforts to conserve Africa's elephants.  The AfESR and the GEC have come to the same conclusion: we are in the midst of a continent-wide poaching crisis that is decimating Africa's elephants.  Urgent action is required to protect these noble animals."

"This report provides the most comprehensive picture available of the status of Africa's elephant populations,” said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants. “The data gives us a situation report on the most at-risk populations in the remotest parts of the continent, from the deserts of Mali to the forests of the Congo Basin, helping to guide the work of the Elephant Crisis Fund and the coalition of organisations we support."

For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:

In Johannesburg: Christine Mentzel, , tel.:+27 74 452 0750

In Switzerland: Lynne Labanne, +41795277221, ; Ewa Magiera, +41 76 505 33 78,


African Elephant Status Reports bring together estimates from all survey types, as well as expert knowledge.

All aerial survey data from the Great Elephant Census, (, a Paul G. Allen project, and data from dung counts in Central Africa carried out primarily by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) were submitted through the African Elephant Database for consideration for inclusion in this report. 

Changes in populations over time can only be compared for areas where reliable surveys have been used. Declines in elephant populations in this report have been generated by comparing elephant estimates from reliable surveys in 2015 to elephant estimates from reliable surveys in 2006, which were reported in the African Elephant Status Report 2007.

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To Bee or not to Bee: An example of Bee specialization on a single flower species

21 September 2016
Juan Pedro González-Varo

A new study provides multiple lines of evidence on the total dependence of the endemic solitary bee Flavipanurgus venustus (Andrenidae) on a common Mediterranean scrub, the rockrose Cistus crispus.

Observations were consistent across space (18 sites in SW Iberian Peninsula) and time (three years) despite the presence of several closely related Cistus species whose flowers are morphologically similar. These findings are remarkable since bee specialization on harvesting pollen from a single flower species has been a questioned fact. Indeed, known cases have been explained by the absence of sympatric and synchronic flowers of the same plant genus or family, thereby, reflecting a lack of choices.

The study also uncovers that the bee’s flight phenology is synchronized with the blooming period of Cistus crispus, and that the densities of bee populations mirror the local densities of this flower. This case provides a nice example of the importance of interspecies interactions and dependencies for supporting and conserving biodiversity.



Where (mangrove) trees thrive, birds prosper

15 September 2016
Photo: © Jessada Plodkaew/Marriott

Mangroves are a sign of resilience and resistance and are critical in maintaining the health of local fishing industries and in protecting vulnerable coastlines from natural disasters. They provide spawning and nursery areas for fish, food and other products for local livelihoods, and they offer habitat for endangered species including sea turtles and otters as well as nesting sites for birds. More recently, almost as if it came to celebrate the third anniversary of a fruitful partnership, a bird was seen nesting in one of the mangrove trees set up at the Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit Park in Bangkok.

Three years ago, IUCN, in collaboration with Mangroves for the Future, launched a partnership with Marriott Hotels & Resorts Thailand to support coastal communities and mangrove restoration efforts in Thailand. As a sign of recognition, Mangrove trees were set up in front of the seven Marriott hotels in Bangkok. These trees are important for education and awareness-raising purposes since mangrove forests are still under threat all around Asia, and it is estimated that at least half of the world’s mangroves have been cleared to make way for aquaculture, coastal infrastructure development, or for charcoal production.

Photo: © Angela Joehl CadenThe trees set up in this urban setting allow guests to readily observe the characteristic stilt roots of the Rhizophora trees, the “knee roots” of Bruguiera or the pneumatophores (aerial roots) of Sonneratia right at their hotel. The guests also learn about mangroves, their importance in building coastal resilience and their specific adaptations to the saline environment, through different education materials displayed at the hotels. Birds, on the other hand, are an indicator of the health of an environment, so the presence of this dove is a good sign that some of the green space in the urban area is being preserved.

Under the partnership with Marriott, over 50,000 trees have been planted in several costal sites in Thailand thanks to generous donations from Marriott’s guests. 

Meanwhile, the trees in Bangkok are growing taller and each visit is a surprise. The discovery of this tiny inhabitant on the Lumnitzera racemosa tree at the Sukhumvit Park was certainly a highlight.

Mangroves for the Future (MFF) is a partnership-based initiative promoting investment in coastal ecosystems for sustainable development. Through partnerships with local communities, government agencies and private sector entities such as Marriott Hotels & Resorts in Thailand, MFF aims to enhance coastal resilience by applying an inclusive, ecosystem-based management approach to the rehabilitation and stewardship of coastal resources. By raising awareness on the importance of mangroves and other coastal ecosystems in Thailand, this project can make a meaningful contribution to the conservation of mangroves and related livelihoods of coastal communities.



Europe Overseas have bypassed Aichi target with 16% of their marine areas under protection

10 September 2016
Photo: Lauric Thiault

The EU Overseas [1] have reached and bypassed the target of marine protected areas (MPAs) set down in the Aichi 2010 declaration- a globally agreed target.

A new publication on MPAs was pre-launched at the World Conservation Congress in Hawaii on the 5th September. It shows that between the many EU Overseas islands worldwide, 16% of marine areas (3.5 million km²) are under some form of protection. Given the current plans of EU states, this could soon rise to 26% (or 5.5 million km²). To achieve the target, at least 10% of coastal and marine areas need to be conserved and effectively managed by 2020.

Hosting 70% of the EU’s species, 20% of the world’s coral reefs and made up of 34 political entities, the EU Overseas with European member states constitute the world’s largest marine domain- 5% of the global ocean. These span five oceans and have a combined marine area of over 19 million km², scattered over more than 150 islands, often remote from any continent. The EU overseas form five global biodiversity hotspots increasingly affected by climate change, invasive species and habitat loss. Most ecosystems are threatened and need stronger protection and management. Given this, the EU Overseas have also been at the forefront of adaptation and made huge progress towards sustainable development. Part of this was creating Hope Spots and MPAs. One of many examples of the latter case is at the Paris climate talks in 2015, France announced an extension to its largest natural reserve in the French Southern and Antarctic Territories to protect 550,000 km² of marine environment.  Civil society has also become involved in these efforts. Over the last few days, French Polynesia has announced the creation of a marine managed area- Tainui Atea, where its entire 5 million km² marine territory will become a Marine Managed Area (MMA).

This is inspired and based on the Polynesian traditional management of marine resources called rāhui . Where some MPA’s and MMA’s stop at borders other MPA’s cross political divides. The establishment of three large marine sanctuaries in the British, French and Dutch waters of the Caribbean protect large ecological migration corridors over a total area of almost 250,000 km². This is more than a third of the EU Overseas Caribbean waters put together. 

Alongside the great successes, the report notes that as of 2016, only five EU Overseas entities have protected 10% or more of their marine area by establishing vast MPAs within their waters. These entities contribute to almost 90% of the EU Overseas MPAs. Given the significance and diversity of marine ecosystems, the MPA network needs to be further improved. Healthy marine ecosystems are more than assets in themselves - they are fundamental for the local and regional economy, particularly fisheries and tourism. Key to achieving tangible marine conservation results is the effective and sustainable management of the valuable ecosystem services provided by the marine ecosystems.

Photo: Simon VacherScrutiny of the current MPA status revealed that with respect to their effectiveness in improving marine ecosystem resilience, large MPAs, covering both coastal and offshore areas, are the most effective, provided they are well managed and take into account connectivity between ecosystems.

Last week, US President Barak Obama announced the extension of the Papahānaumokuākea Hawaii marine reserve which has now become the largest MPA in the world. Before that, three of the five largest MPA’s were found in the EU Oversea’s waters and soon, with Tainui Atea, the largest marine managed area will be located in French Polynesia waters. The much anticipated report points to the fact that internationally, about 4% of the global ocean is under protection, compared to over 15% of the land area. While there is still great scope for improvement, the EU Overseas have contributed substantially to global marine protection and achieving internationally set targets.


[1] EU overseas comprises of European Outermost Regions (ORs) and Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs)


First global conservation priorities set – IUCN World Conservation Congress

07 September 2016
Photo: Dan Challender

Honolulu, Hawaiʻi, 6 September (IUCN) – Limiting illegal trade in threatened species, promoting nature-based solutions to climate change and accounting for biodiversity conservation in the development of renewables are among the first global conservation priorities set today at the IUCN World Conservation Congress taking place in Hawaiʻi.

The 85 motions adopted by IUCN’s 1,300 government and civil society Members – following the first-ever electronic vote cast in August 2016 – include a ban on gillnet fishing threatening the vaquita porpoise and restrictions on trade of pangolins.

Another 14 global conservation issues will be debated and voted on over the next few days at the IUCN Congress, including advancing the conservation of the high seas, mitigating the impacts of oil palm expansion on biodiversity, protecting primary forests and closure of domestic markets to all ivory sales.

“The new electronic voting system has made the already democratic institution even more democratic,” says Enrique Lahmann, IUCN Congress Director. “By giving IUCN’s government and NGO Members time to reflect and arrive at convergence on critical issues such as illegal wildlife trade, we have used technology to boost the governance of nature.”

Members have urged for restrictions on trade in threatened pangolin species to exceptional cases only, as defined by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Despite current protection measures at the global and local levels, the species’ survival is at risk due to overexploitation, illegal trade and degradation of its habitat.

Unsustainable fisheries were the focus of another decision drawing attention to the imminent extinction threat facing the Critically Endangered vaquita in Mexico. IUCN’s government and NGO Members have urged for a permanent ban to gillnet fishing throughout the entire vaquita range in the Pacific Ocean. The vaquita is the bycatch of fishing of totoaba.

Members of IUCN have also defined nature-based solutions as actions that protect and manage ecosystems, while effectively addressing societal challenges, such as food and water security, climate change, disaster risk reduction, human health and economic well-being. The concept of nature-based solutions is particularly relevant to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals.

Renewable energy has been the focus of two decisions adopted by IUCN Members, who have encouraged governments to implement energy efficiency and renewable energy plans, taking into account biodiversity conservation. IUCN Members also called for enhanced efforts to minimise the impacts of offshore renewable energy technologies on marine life.

IUCN Members have also called for attention to the increasing use of ‘synthetic biology’, whose implications on biodiversity and human well-being remain unclear. According to the decision, the international conservation community needs to assess this emerging field and its impacts.

Motions are proposed by IUCN Members every four years to set priorities for the work of IUCN - a unique membership union gathering 217 state and government agencies, 1,066 NGOs, and networks of over 16,000 experts worldwide.

For more information about the motions passed at the IUCN Congress please go here.

For more information, please contact the IUCN Congress Media Team at



Beyond lip-service: designing Marine protected areas to deliver for people

06 September 2016
Photo: Imen Meliane

A new paper released at the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawai'i calls into question the current processes for marine protected areas designation and demands a new paradigm to secure ecosystems services conservation alongside biodiversity.

By Imèn Meliane and Mark Spalding, IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas

As over 10,000 participants at the IUCN World Conservation Congress are celebrating massive new additions to the marine protected areas coverage, one has to wonder about right measure of conservation outcomes. Headlines and media attention on big numbers stand in stark contrast to many of the discussions on the floor at the Congress.

Protected areas are regularly being called out for their potential role in delivering key benefits to people, from flood protection and safeguarding water supplies to carbon sequestration, food security and other sources of livelihoods. They have been positioned as critical pathways to achieving many of the Sustainable Development Goals.

What is missing from these discussions are the mechanisms and tools to achieve these aims, particularly in the marine environment. Many in the marine conservation community assume or hope that protecting an area for biodiversity will also deliver high benefits for people. This is not always the case. Many of the best known and highly celebrated MPAs are far from people, delivering relatively few direct benefits. These areas are important, but if we only focus on biodiversity conservation we are missing a critical part of the equation. Many of the places where people are deeply dependent on nature are ignored or under-valued.

Marine protected areas can be a game-changer. Well-placed, small marine reserves can regenerate fish-stocks. Moderately disturbed reefs and mangroves can still defend millions from the impacts of erosion and storms, and with better protection and local management they can do an even better job. Nature-dependent tourism can generate local benefits to local communities world-wide.

We know enough now to do things differently. The global protected areas target (Aichi Target 11) calls for the protection of areas of importance for “biodiversity and ecosystem services”. These will not always be the same places. We need to urgently develop processes that parallel the excellent efforts for biodiversity prioritisation. We want to rapidly advance the identification of Areas of Critical Importance for Ecosystem Services. These will be places where nature is at its most important for people. Such places will often be close to people – embedded amongst densely populated shores and coastal towns and cities. Many will in fact be in areas where biodiversity indices are moderate, and where nature’s values may have already been compromised. They will require different conservation approaches. Good management, and in some cases restoration, will enhance their values. Such places may, in turn, foster improved appreciation of nature, creating new advocates and the potential for leveraging ever greater conservation investments.

So far we have talked the talk about the role of protected areas for people, but we have failed to implement. It is time to move towards Protected Areas Generation 2.0 which effectively contribute to human development alongside biodiversity protection.


The new publication can be downloaded here:

Spalding M, Meliane I, Bennett N, Dearden P, Patil P, Brumbaugh R. 2016. Building towards the marine conservation end-game: consolidating the role of MPAs in a future ocean. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems. Open access edition released 5 September, 2016



First assessment of the conservation status of butterflies in the Mediterranean

05 September 2016
Photo: Rudi Verovnik

The assessment reveals that 5% of the species assessed are threatened with extinction and proposes urgent conservation measures to halt the loss of biodiversity in the region.

There are 462 butterflies native to the Mediterranean region and an assessment recently published by IUCN reveals that 19 butterfly species are threatened with extinction in the region, from which 15 are endemics.

The report shows that the most serious threats to Mediterranean butterflies are the conversion of grasslands into agricultural land for arable farming or forestry, unsustainable levels of grazing as well as abandonment of traditional cultural practices. Other significant threats are climate change, the increase frequency and intensity of fires and the development of tourism.

A group of experts concluded that appropriate habitat management could improve the conservation status of these valuable species, and they recommended urgent conservation measures to safeguard this natural capital in the region by fully implementing national and international legislation, habitat action plans and prioritization of field work and data collection for Data Deficient species.

Photo: Chris van Swaay“Butterflies are the most iconic and popular insects for many people and have fascinating life-cycles that are used in many countries to teach children about the natural world. However, in many parts of Mediterranean Europe, butterflies are declining because of changes in agricultural systems, and some of them could become extinct if action against these threats is not taken urgently”, says Dr Chris van Swaay, chair of Butterfly Conservation Europe and one of the authors of the report.

The report shows that the greatest species richness is found in mountainous areas such as southern France, northern Greece as well as southern Turkey, where high diversity of microclimates favours many species. More than 21% of Mediterranean butterflies are endemic, meaning that they occur only in this region. The majority of these endemic species are concentrated in the north of Africa.

“Although the percentage of butterflies listed as Data Deficient is lower than in other groups assessed, there is still a lack of information regarding distribution, population size and trends especially for the species occurring in the southern and eastern Mediterranean”, says Catherine Numa from the IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation.

The publication shows an example from the Species Recovery Programme undertaken by Butterfly Conservation Europe for the long-term survival of four Mediterranean endemic butterflies (Euchloe bazae, Polyommatus golgus, Polyommatus violetae and Plebejus zullichi) found in Spain.

This report is a result of the work developed by the IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation (IUCN-Med) in collaboration with the IUCN Species Programme and Butterfly Conservation Europe and has been presented at the World Conservation Congress held in Hawaii from the 1st to the 10th of September 2016.

IUCN-Med is assessing the conservation status of selected taxonomic groups in the Mediterranean region. The Red List of Butterflies is the ninth publication in the series.

This assessment has been made possible thanks to the financial support of the MAVA Foundation and can be consulted on:

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Latest ocean warming review reveals extent of impacts on nature and humans

05 September 2016
Photo: Deepak Apte

Honolulu, Hawaiʻi, 5 September (IUCN) – Ocean warming is affecting humans in direct ways and the impacts are already being felt, including effects on fish stocks and crop yields, more extreme weather events and increased risk from water-borne diseases, according to what has been called the most comprehensive review available on the issue, launched today by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawai‘i.

The report, Explaining ocean warming: Causes, scale, effects and consequences, reviews the effects of ocean warming on species, ecosystems and on the benefits oceans provide to humans. Compiled by 80 scientists from 12 countries, it highlights detectable scientific evidence of impacts on marine life, from microorganisms to mammals, which are likely to increase significantly even under a low emissions scenario.

“Ocean warming is one of this generation’s greatest hidden challenges – and one for which we are completely unprepared,” says IUCN Director General Inger Andersen. “The only way to preserve the rich diversity of marine life, and to safeguard the protection and resources the ocean provides us with, is to cut greenhouse gas emissions rapidly and substantially.”

Ocean warming is already affecting ecosystems from polar to tropical regions, driving entire groups of species such as plankton, jellyfish, turtles and seabirds up to 10 degrees of latitude towards the poles, causing the loss of breeding grounds for turtles and seabirds, and affecting the breeding success of marine mammals, according to the report.

By damaging fish habitats and causing fish species to move to cooler waters, warming oceans are affecting fish stocks in some areas and are expected to lead to reduced catches in tropical regions, the report states.

In East Africa and the Western Indian Ocean, for example, ocean warming has reduced the abundance of some fish species by killing parts of the coral reefs they depend on, adding to losses caused by overfishing and destructive fishing techniques. In South-East Asia, harvests from marine fisheries are expected to fall by between 10% and 30% by 2050 relative to 1970-2000, as the distributions of fish species shift, under a high ‘business as usual’ greenhouse gas emission scenario, the report states.

“Most of the heat from human-induced warming since the 1970s – a staggering 93% – has been absorbed by the ocean, which acts as a buffer against climate change, but this comes at a price. We were astounded by the scale and extent of ocean warming effects on entire ecosystems made clear by this report,” says Dan Laffoley, Marine Vice Chair of the World Commission on Protected Areas at IUCN, and one of the lead authors.

The report also highlights evidence that ocean warming is causing increased disease in plant and animal populations, and impacting human health as pathogens spread more easily in warmer waters, including cholera-bearing bacteria and harmful algal blooms that cause neurological diseases like ciguatera.

Warming oceans are also affecting the weather, with a range of knock-on effects on humans. The number of severe hurricanes has increased at a rate of around 25-30% per degree of global warming, the report states.

Ocean warming has led to increased rainfall in mid-latitudes and monsoon areas, and less rain in various sub-tropical regions. These changes will have impacts on crop yields in important food-producing regions such as North America and India, according to the report.

The protection against climate change offered to us by oceans and their ecosystems – such as absorbing large amounts of CO2 and sheltering us from storms and erosion – is also likely to reduce as the ocean warms, according to the report.

The report’s recommendations include recognising the severity of ocean warming impacts on ocean ecosystems and the benefits they provide to humans, expanding marine protected areas, introducing legal protection for the high seas, better evaluating the social and economic risks associated with warming oceans and continuing to fill gaps in scientific knowledge, as well as cutting greenhouse gas emissions rapidly and substantially.

Ocean conservation is one of the major themes addressed by the ongoing IUCN Congress, where IUCN Members will vote on motions related to protecting the high seas and protected areas in Antarctica among many others.

For more information, please contact:

(In Hawaiʻi):

Goska Bonnaveira, IUCN Media Relations, m +1 808 219 1692, e-mail

Ewa Magiera, IUCN Media Relations, tél. +1 8086751459 / tél. +41 76 505 33 78, courriel :

IUCN Congress Media Team, e-mail:


About IUCN          

IUCN, International Union for Conservation of Nature, helps the world find pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges.  IUCN’s work focusses on valuing and conserving nature, ensuring effective and equitable governance of its use, and deploying nature-based solutions to global challenges in climate, food and development. IUCN supports scientific research, manages field projects all over the world, and brings governments, NGOs, the UN and companies together to develop policy, laws and best practice. IUCN is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organisation, with almost 1,300 government and NGO Members and more than 15,000 volunteer experts in 185 countries. IUCN’s work is supported by almost 1,000 staff in 45 offices and hundreds of partners in public, NGO and private sectors around the world.

XL Catlin, is the global brand used by XL Group Ltd’s (NYSE:XL) insurance and reinsurance companies. XL Catlin’s interest in ocean science research stems from its position as a leading insurer and reinsurer and its need to understand how the global risk landscape will change in the future. XL Catlin sponsored the Arctic Survey’s (2009 – 2011) that investigated the impacts of changes to the Arctic Ocean and the XL Catlin Seaview Survey (2012-present) that created the first digital baseline of coral reef health, which is freely available on the XL Catlin Global Reef Record.  In 2016 XL Catlin is also supporting Nekton’s Science Research Programme, the XL Catlin Deep Ocean Survey, creating a new standardised methodology to be used by marine biologists for measuring physical, chemical and biological indicators to assess the function, health and resilience of the deep ocean.

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Species Vulnerability to Climate Change - New Guidelines

03 September 2016
Polar Bear © Brigitta Bostrom

Hawaii September 3rd 2016. The new IUCN Guidelines for Assessing Species’ Vulnerability to Climate Change have been launched today at the IUCN World Conservation Congress. The guidelines provide the conservation community with a vital tool for that underpins efforts to help species adapt to climate change.

To develop effective conservation plans, you need to determine how species are being impacted by climate change, and how this will play out in the future,” said Dr Wendy Foden, Chair of the IUCN SSC Climate Change Specialist Group and co-editor of the guidelines. “The IUCN Guidelines for Assessing Species’ Vulnerability to Climate Change present the combined knowledge and experience of more than thirty scientists from around the world and can be used for any species – from polar bears to puffins and wildflowers.”

Quiver tree in southern Africa. © Wendy FodenThe guidelines are the work of more than 30 leading scientists and conservation professionals from around the world, who responded to the urgent need for a sound, wise way forward in this new and challenging field. As well as providing step-by-step guidance and information on freely available resources, the guidelines also include case studies of assessments carried out for species ranging from corals to butterflies and polar bears.

New methods for climate change vulnerability assessments are coming out of the woodwork these days,” says co-editor Dr Bruce Young of the international non-profit NatureServe  These new guidelines should help practitioners make sense the field and select the methods that will best help them achieve their conservation objectives.”

Clown fish in Moorea, French Polynesia © IUCN/Jean-Philippe PalasiA partnership between the Yorkshire Wildlife Park Foundation (YWPF) and the Climate Change Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Species Survival Commission has been crucial for the production of the guidelines. The Climate Change Specialist Group consists of more than twenty leading scientists around the world, who are working to find ways of improving conservation actions for species impacted by climate change.

Last year's Paris Climate Conference COP21 discussed the clear and urgent threat to many thousands of species as weather systems and habitats change. The Foundation’s expertise and experience in protecting threatened species will now become a vital part of a global movement raising awareness and taking action against this growing threat to wildlife.

Ringed Seal in May 2003 © Kit M. Kovacs/Christian LydersenWe are delighted to support IUCN and this vital initiative, as we know it will make a significant contribution to protecting wildlife from the impacts of climate change,” said Cheryl Williams, Trustee of the Yorkshire Wildlife Park Foundation, which is based at the award-winning Yorkshire Wildlife Park, at Branton, near Doncaster. “We are determined to do our part, and hope that local businesses, park supporters and members of the public will join us in making this a priority.”

The flagship species at Yorkshire Wildlife Park, the polar bears, are listed as Vulnerable on The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species because extensive declines in Arctic sea ice are severely decreasing its available habitat. As part of Project Polar, YWPF has been promoting action to combat climate change, and is partnering in the development of an international centre for the conservation and rehabilitation of polar bears both in captivity and in the wild.

Leatherback Turtle Trinidad © Brian J. Hutchinson“The polar bears are like the canaries in the coalmines – their plight is a warning for everyone,” said Williams.

YWPF provides expert and administrative support to the IUCN Climate Change Specialist Group. Foundation and Specialist Group staff will work together to increase awareness about climate change, its impacts on wildlife, and the best ways to respond. The Foundation’s support has enabled the publication  of The IUCN Guidelines for Assessing Species’ Vulnerability to Climate Change. These guidelines will provide the conservation community with the best available scientific knowledge to guide important efforts to help species adapt to

“We are extremely glad that the support of the Yorkshire Wildlife Park Foundation has facilitated the production of these important guidelines in time for the IUCN World Conservation Congress,” says Dr Foden. “We recognise the incredibly valuable role that the Yorkshire Wildlife Park and the Foundation play in helping people to understand climate change and how to combat it, and we greatly appreciate working together to ensure that the guidelines reach those who need them.”

This partnership is an important extension of The Yorkshire Wildlife Park Foundation’s existing efforts in conservation and welfare, including highly praised work with polar bears, Amur tigers, leopards and African painted dogs.



IUCN-led panel finds critically endangered whales in Russia recovering, but warns industry still poses threat

03 September 2016
Photo: © Gilad Rom CC BY-NC 2.0

The critically endangered western gray whale population that feeds in Russia’s Far East waters is slowly showing signs of recovery, but their numbers and range are still at risk from industry activity in the region, according to a new report released today at the IUCN World Conservation Congress.

The joint report by IUCN-International Union for Conservation for Nature, WWF and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) examines the results of the work of an IUCN-led independent panel of scientists, which has been advising Sakhalin Energy – one of the largest companies operating in the area – as part of an innovative loan deal. Over the last 12 years, Sakhalin Energy has made important efforts to limit the impact of its operations on whales and the fragile environment. During this period, the western gray whale population has grown 3-4% annually, from an estimated 115 animals in 2004 to 174 in 2015.

The western gray whale population is currently listed at Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red list of Threatened Species™.

“What started 12 years ago as a response to a growing conflict between environmentalists and the oil and gas industry over one critically endangered whale population has resulted in multiple benefits for conservation and business,” says IUCN Director General Inger Andersen. “IUCN has shown that independent scientific panels are an effective mechanism to arrive at evidence-based and robust solutions to some of today’s pressing environment and development challenges.”

However, the report also warns that further cooperation and involvement of all companies and industries in the region – including oil and gas operators and fisheries - are crucial to ensure best practices and the long-term protection of the animals.  

“The annual increase of Sakhalin whales is encouraging but their recovery in the long-term will depend on more companies in the region joining this effort,” said Doug Nowacek, a well-known specialist in whale behaviour and a WGWAP panellist.  “Sakhalin Energy has demonstrated that it is possible for companies to mitigate their impacts and still operate effectively.  But other companies in Sakhalin need to take similar measures to address the problem of cumulative impacts of industry on the marine environment.”

The report, titled Stories of Influence, explores how the panel generated benefits for business and conservation.  It is based on interviews with more than 20 experts and stakeholders engaged in the process.  Over the past 12 years, the panel issued more than 539 recommendations to Sakhalin Energy and other parties, 90% of which have been implemented or superseded by subsequent advice.  The process has included financial lenders and government officials as well as NGOs, serving as observers.

Among the achievements is a decision by Sakhalin Energy to alter the route of its pipeline to minimize the disruption and impact on the whales’ feeding grounds. The panel has advocated innovative scientific research, including a satellite-tagging programme that has documented the longest one-way migration of any mammal – a 10,880km journey from Sakhalin to its wintering calving grounds in Mexico’s Baja California peninsula.  In addition, the panel’s work has also led to the development of one of the most comprehensive company Monitoring and Mitigation Plans for seismic surveys, which now serves as the industry’s global guide.

IUCN first established what is now known as WGWAP in 2004 in response to a growing concern over Sakhalin Energy’s plans for expansion in the Sea of Okhotsk and the impact this could have on the critically endangered whales found off Sakhalin Island.  An outcry from NGOs opposing those plans eventually persuaded lenders to tie a number of mitigating conditions to the loan agreement. These included a requirement for Sakhalin Energy to finance an independent panel managed by IUCN to provide recommendations on their operations. 

“The Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel has reduced the impact of this oil and gas operation on one of the world’s most threatened whales, a legacy the lenders to this project can be proud of,” says Wendy Elliott, Deputy Global Wildlife Leader, WWF International.  “We encourage other financial institutions to replicate this success by including similarly stringent conditions when granting loans to projects with potentially damaging impacts on threatened wildlife and their habitats.”

Sakhalin Energy recognises that integrating science into the company’s management and policies has had a positive impact on its operations, and this is now reflected in the company’s vision.

During the report’s launch, IUCN confirmed it intends to sign another five-year agreement with Sakhalin Energy to continue this work.  Under the new agreement covering 2017-2021, WGWAP will continue to provide independent scientific advice to the company. Also, the panel has recently established a working group to explore how similar lending conditions to enhance conservation measures can be mainstreamed going forward.

Throughout the IUCN Congress from 1-10 September, a number of events will explore the management of oil and gas impacts on the marine environment, as well as examine the effectiveness of Independent Scientific Advisory Panels, such as WGWAP, for resolving environmental conflicts on behalf of governments and business.  In addition, building on the WGWAP experience, IUCN has released a new guide developed to help industry design and carry out effective and responsible geophysical surveys.

For more information, please contact:

Anete Berzina, IUCN media relations, Tel. +41 79 174 6186or email:

IUCN Congress media team, 

Richard Lee, WWF wildlife communications, Tel +41 79 691 4018 or email:

Clare Sterling, IFAW communications manager, Tel. +44 207 587 6708 or email:


Additional quotes from stakeholders:

“The WGWAP process has served as a constructive platform for open dialogue between the oil and gas companies and NGOs. All of the WGWAP recommendations are public, which has fostered greater transparency and accountability among all of the stakeholders,” said Azzedine Downes, IFAW President and CEO at the press conference.

Deric Quaile of Shell said at the press conference: “As a shareholder in Sakhalin Energy, Shell believes that the WGWAP process has played an important role in improving environmental performance in the Sakhalin-2 Project. The lessons from cooperation with WGWAP reinforced Shell’s conviction that environmental and biodiversity screening and stakeholder collaboration should be an integral part of the company’s business decisions.”

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