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Celebrating 50 Years of The IUCN Red List

30 January 2014

Throughout 2014 we are celebrating the significant contribution of The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species in guiding conservation action and policy decisions over the past 50 years. The IUCN Red list is an invaluable conservation resource, a health check for our planet – a Barometer of Life.

The IUCN Red List is the world’s most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of animal, fungi and plant species and their links to livelihoods. Far more than a list of species and their status, the IUCN Red List is a powerful tool to inform and catalyse action for biodiversity conservation and policy change, critical to protecting the natural resources we need to survive. It provides information on population size and trends, geographic range and habitat needs of species.

Many species groups including mammals, amphibians, birds, reef building corals and conifers have been comprehensively assessed. However, there is much more to be done and increased investment is needed urgently to build The IUCN Red List into a more complete ‘Barometer of Life’. To do this we need to increase the number of species assessed from the current count of 71,576 to at least 160,000 by 2020, improving the taxonomic coverage and thus providing a stronger base to enable better conservation and policy decisions.

Join us in celebrating the contribution that The IUCN Red List has made in guiding conservation for 50 years – spread the word, get involved, follow our news   @amazingspecies



News Releases

Study demands new strategy to save species

02 July 2014
A Yellow Hornbill in Kruger National Park, South Africa
Photo: IUCN Photo Library © Jim Thorsell

A team of scientists working in partnership with IUCN has revealed that intergovernmental commitments to expand global protected areas could still leave many species in danger of disappearing from our planet.

A strategy to expand protected areas from 13% to 17% of the earth's land surface by 2020 was put in place as part of the 20 Aichi Targets in the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) strategic plan in Nagoya, Japan in 2010.

However, the 'gap analysis' study, which will be presented as part of the 'Reaching Conservation Goals' stream at the World Parks Congress 2014 taking place 12-19 November in Sydney, Australia, found that one-sixth of 4,118 threatened vertebrates do not occur in any protected areas.

Moreover, reaching the 17% target by establishing protected areas in places of lowest agricultural potential would only increase adequate representation of threatened vertebrates by 6%. The study, led by Dr Oscar Venter of James Cook University, Australia, explained that a far more cost-effective and logical solution would be to position new protected areas strategically. The increase in threatened species representation could be multiplied five-fold by protecting areas with only one-and-a-half times more agricultural potential.

"The Aichi targets set forth a bold and ambitious vision for conservation action this decade. While many of the targets seem inherently synergistic, like Target 11 to expand protected areas and Target 12 to protect threatened species, our study shows this may not be the case," said Dr Venter.

"We discover that the locations that are cheap to protect, and therefore most likely to receive protected area expansion, contribute little to the conservation of threatened vertebrates. The key to safeguarding the world's most at-risk fauna and flora is to link threatened species coverage to protected area expansion, which would combine two of the commitments made by the parties to the CBD," he added.

'Great concern'

The study’s finding causes great concern to Dr Penny Langhammer of Arizona State University. "We can meet the 17% target and fail to ensure the persistence of biodiversity unless protected area expansion proceeds in a highly strategic manner," said Langhammer, who is co-chair for the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas and Species Survival Commission Joint Task Force Biodiversity and Protected Areas.

"This study shows that it is both necessary and possible to safeguard sites of particular importance for threatened species," she added.

Her co-chair, Dr Stephen Woodley, added “Target 11 of the Convention of Biological Diversity's Aichi Targets is the most comprehensive global target the world has ever had for protected areas. The Aichi Targets are meant to halt global biodiversity loss by 2020 and protected areas are the fundamental tools to conserve species. As the world moves toward 2020, it is clear that the evolving protected system must include areas that conserve the world's endangered species.”

The study builds on an initial global gap analysis of the coverage of threatened species, conducted for the World Parks Congress in Durban, South Africa in 2003, which showed that at least a fifth of threatened species were unrepresented within protected areas. The work was only possible because for 50 years, IUCN and its Species Survival Commission and Red List Partnership have maintained assessments of species extinction risk through the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and similarly IUCN and its World Commission on Protected Areas and UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre maintain assessments of the world’s 200,000 protected areas.

Spider in Lawachara National Park, a hub of biodiversity in north-east Bangladesh. Photo: IUCN BangladeshHelp future generations

Professor James Watson, of the University of Queensland, Australia, and Co-Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Climate Change Specialist Group, and one of the study’s authors, believes that implementing the paper’s recommendations could help reduce the impacts of climate change for future generations.

“By protecting both large intact land and sea areas and threatened species, we can greatly increase the chances of maintaining Earth’s biological diversity for future generations, especially when we think about threats such as Gazelles in Waza National Park, Cameroon. Photo: Annelie Finckeclimate change,” said Professor Watson, who is also Director of Climate Change at the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“When these goals are combined, countries are much more likely to create new parks in biologically threatened areas that are hopefully more resilient to climate change, which will lead to long-term dividends for global conservation.” Fellow author Dr Carlo Rondinini is also of the opinion that this agreement could have very positive but said it is crucial that all the scientific research is translated into positive practices.

'Not enough'

“The commitment of the world's governments to expand the global protected area network opens an unprecedented opportunity to boost conservation action, provided that the new sites fill the gaps identified so far,” said Rondinini, who works in the Global Mammal Assessment team at Sapienza University in Rome, an IUCN Red List Partner.

"The giant leaps we are taking in mapping current species distributions and forecasting their future change mean that we know how to expand the protected area network in an efficient, effective and robust way. But this is not enough - scientific results will have to be translated into good practice of protected area establishment and management to have a positive impact on life on Earth," he added.

Dr Stuart Butchart, another key contributor to the study, was also keen to stress the importance of synergising the campaigns to increase the protected area coverage and save the species. "This paper demonstrates that there are considerable synergies between the different Aichi Targets, and that targeting protected area expansion to conserve threatened species is much more efficient than tackling these two issues separately," said Butchart, who is Head of Science at BirdLife International, another IUCN Red List Partner.

"BirdLife’s Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) – 12,000 sites identified worldwide – provide a mechanism to achieve this, as they are sites critical for the conservation of the world’s birds and for other wildlife groups more generally. IUCN is now building on the IBA concept to extend it to other biodiversity, and a draft standard for Key Biodiversity Areas is to be released later in 2014."

Dr Thomas Brooks, IUCN's Head of Science and Knowledge, concluded by emphasising the importance of the World Parks Congress in launching such scientific work into the arenas of policy and practice. "The Sydney World Parks Congress will be a springboard for gap analyses, for the new Key Biodiversity Area standard, and for novel assessments of protected area management effectiveness and biodiversity outcomes," he said.

"It will also provide a platform for governmental and other commitments to strengthen current protected areas and establish new ones, so that our planet's biodiversity can persist."

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From despair to repair: Dramatic decline of Caribbean corals can be reversed

02 July 2014
Rainbow parrotfish grazing in the Caribbean
Photo: Shutterstock

With only about one-sixth of the original coral cover left, most Caribbean coral reefs may disappear in the next 20 years, primarily due to the loss of grazers in the region, according to the latest report by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The report, Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: Caribbean reefs with unhealthy corals, Guadeloupe, 2013 Photo: Catlin Seaview Survey1970-2012, is the most detailed and comprehensive study of its kind published to date – the result of the work of 90 experts over the course of three years. It contains the analysis of more than 35,000 surveys conducted at 90 Caribbean locations since 1970, including studies of corals, seaweeds, grazing sea urchins and fish.Status and Trends of Caribbean Coral Reefs: 1970-2012 Photo: Ayana Elizabeth Johnson

The results show that the Caribbean corals have declined by more than 50% since the 1970s. But according to the authors, restoring parrotfish populations and improving other management strategies, such as protection from overfishing and excessive coastal pollution, could help the reefs recover and make them more resilient to future climate change impacts.

“The rate at which the Caribbean corals have been declining is truly alarming,” says Carl Gustaf Lundin, Director of IUCN’s Global Marine and Polar Programme. “But this study brings some very encouraging news: the fate of Caribbean corals is not beyond our control and there are some very concrete steps that we can take to help them recover.”

Climate change has long been thought to be the main culprit in coral degradation. While it does pose a serious threat by making oceans more acidic and causing coral bleaching, the report shows that the loss of parrotfish and sea urchin – the area’s two main grazers – has, in fact, been the key driver of coral decline in the region. An unidentified disease led to a mass mortality of the sea urchin in 1983 and extreme fishing throughout the 20th century has brought the parrotfish population to the brink of extinction in some regions. The loss of these species breaks the delicate balance of coral ecosystems and allows algae, on which they feed, to smother the reefs.

Reefs protected from overfishing, as well as other threats such as excessive coastal pollution, tourism and coastal development, are more resilient to pressures from climate change, according to the authors.

“Even if we could somehow make climate change disappear tomorrow, these reefs would continue their decline," says Jeremy Jackson, lead author of the report and IUCN’s senior advisor on coral reefs. "We must immediately address the grazing problem for the reefs to stand any chance of surviving future climate shifts.”

The report also shows that some of the healthiest Caribbean coral reefs are those that harbour vigorous populations of grazing parrotfish. These include the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in the northern Gulf of Mexico, Bermuda and Bonaire, all of which have restricted or banned fishing practices that harm parrotfish, such as fish traps and spearfishing. Other countries are following suit.

“Barbuda is about to ban all catches of parrotfish and grazing sea urchins, and set aside one-third of its coastal waters as marine reserves,” says Ayana Johnson of the Waitt Institute’s Blue Halo Initiative which is collaborating with Barbuda in the development of its new management plan. “This is the kind of aggressive management that needs to be replicated regionally if we are going to increase the resilience of Caribbean reefs.”

Reefs where parrotfish are not protected have suffered tragic declines, including Jamaica, the entire Florida Reef Tract from Miami to Key West, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Caribbean is home to 9% of the world’s coral reefs, which are one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Caribbean reefs, spanning a total of 38 countries, are vital to the region’s economy. They generate more than US$ 3 billion annually from tourism and fisheries and over a hundred times more in other goods and services, on which more than 43 million people depend.

This video, featuring the report's lead author Jeremy Jackson, explains the significance of the report:


For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:
Ewa Magiera, IUCN Media Relations, m +41 76 505 33 78,
Sylvie Rockel, IUCN Marine and Polar Programme, t + 41 22 999 0191,

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Javan Rhinos: Rangers protect the unseen

27 June 2014
UKNP Ranger Protection Unit and Bill Konstant
Photo: IRF

Like the semi-mystical Saola, the Critically Endangered Javan Rhino (Rhinoceros sondaicus) is rarely seen. That does not dishearten the 16 members of Java's 4-man Rhino Protection Units (RPUs), however. Trekking hundreds of kilometers through the dense jungle of Ujung Kulon National Park (UKNP) each year, these teams are successfully protecting this unique creature from poachers – not one has been killed this century. SOS grantee, the International Rhino Foundation’s (IRF) Bill Konstant details just how elusive these creatures are.

A rarely seen Critically Endangered Javan Rhino Photo: WWF IndonesiaAn estimated 35-44 rhinos remain in UKNP, the world’s final stronghold for the Javan Rhino. The four RPUs spend about 200 days per year hiking through the jungle on the lookout for rhino poachers, assisting the park’s authorities. In an average year, the RPUs here will cover more than 2,000 miles – nearly the distance from Madrid to Moscow - and lay eyes on a Javan rhino only once or twice, if they’re lucky. In fact, in 2011, not one RPU member spied a single rhino while on patrol. Incredibly, Rhino wallow Ujung Kulon National Park Photo: IRFthat same year, video camera traps “captured” 35 individually identifiable rhinos, including four youngsters. Equally as important, no rhinos have been killed by poachers in Ujung Kulon this century, reiterates Bill.

Despite the chronic lack of visual contact, the RPUs know the rhinos are out there. The signs would be impossible to miss. Three-toed footprints, almost the size of dinner plates, are prominent along forest trails and muddy Unmistakable footprints Photo: IRFriverbanks where these one-ton creatures haul themselves in and out of the water. An animal that size, like a living military tank, also leaves conspicuous tunnels through dense vegetation, or simply yanks down small trees that have the audacity to grow juicy leaves above the reach of its prehensile upper lip. The rhino’s daily consumption - kilos of plant matter - also ensures the production of significant dung deposits along the trail. And the need for mud baths dictates regular visits to local wallows.

Another tell tale sign of Javan rhino presence Photo: IRFAdd up all these signs, take careful measurements and plot the results, and you get a fairly decent idea of rhino movements and how they’re using the forest. This information is essential to implementing a conservation strategy that will ensure their survival, explains Bill. Even if he nor the RPUs never see one again, knowing the rhinos are there, safe and sound, foraging and rummaging through their forest home is the trophy worth fighting for.

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More good news for Saola as rangers collect over 7,800 snares

25 June 2014
A collection of snares from a single foot patrol in Phou Sithone ESCA

How do you protect what you never see and of which we know so little? According to SOS Grantee and IUCN Member, the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Alex McWilliam, Deputy Director of the WCS Lao PDR Programme, by far the greatest immediate threat to the survival of the Saola throughout its range is unregulated illegal hunting mainly by way of tens of thousands of snares. He and his project team removed more than 7,800 wire snares from Phou Sithone Endangered Species Conservation Area (ESCA) in Lao PDR between October 2012 and March 2014.

In a field report, Alex explains, “By far the greatest immediate threat to the survival of the Saola is unregulated illegal hunting mainly by way of tens of thousands of snares. These snares are set hundreds at a time in lines that can be several hundred meters long and indiscriminately capture any and all wildlife that happen to encounter them. The removal of these snares is a critical part of providing an opportunity for the species to recover”.

Since it was first recorded by science in 1992, this mystical creature has only been sighted by scientists on a few occasions, most recently in 2010 in the newly created Phou Sithone ESCA and scientists now estimate that only a few hundred remain. As part of an ongoing programme in the region, this SOS funded project assists local government and communities to improve the management of the Phou Sithone ESCA, a conservation forest specifically established as a site for the recovery of Saola.

Team Leader, Saming, conducts a campaign activity assisted by the Saola mascot. Photo: WCS Lao PDR IEWMPTo ensure no killing of Saola and reduce the number of snares the project’s enforcement programme recruited 14 rangers who conduct strategic patrols within and around the border of the conservation area. To build community support, and assist with developing understanding about the laws and regulations that apply to the area, local villagers participate as members of the patrol teams. In the last 6 months these two teams have conducted patrols for Wildlife Enforcement Rangers on patrol in PST ESCA. Photo: WCS Lao PDR IEWMP19 days per month. The terrain is mountainous and unforgiving but the teams are determined and well equipped.

Since October 2012 the teams have encountered and removed 7,813 snares and destroyed several dozen hunting camps. They have also provided significant information about the presence of gibbon species in the conservation area.

An enforcement team conduct a foot patrol in Phou Sithone ESCA. Photo: WCS Lao PDR / IEWMPNaturally, Alex is passionate about the project’s work explaining the urgency to build on this success, “if we do not act now the planet will lose an iconic animal that symbolizes the unique forests of the Annamite Mountains and is an emblem of both countries where it occurs”, he stresses. More importantly the extinction of the Saola would highlight our failure to sustainably manage ecosystems for the benefit of human kind and wildlife alike.

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Systemic pesticides pose global threat to biodiversity and ecosystem services

24 June 2014
Wheat growing in India
Photo: Kazimuddin Ahmed

The conclusions of a new meta-analysis of the systemic pesticides neonicotinoids and fipronil (neonics) confirm that they are causing significant damage to a wide range of beneficial invertebrate species and are a key factor in the decline of bees.

Concern about the impact of systemic pesticides on a variety of beneficial species has been growing for the last 20 years but the science has not been considered conclusive until now.

Undertaking a full analysis of all the available literature (800 peer-reviewed reports) the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides – a group of global, independent scientists affiliated with the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management and the IUCN Species Survival Commission has found that there is clear evidence of harm sufficient to trigger regulatory action.

The analysis, known as the Worldwide Integrated Assessment (WIA), to be published in the peer-reviewed Journal Environment Science and Pollution Research, finds that neonics pose a serious risk to honeybees and other pollinators such as butterflies and to a wide range of other invertebrates such as earthworms and vertebrates including birds.

Neonics are a nerve poison and the effects of exposure range from instant and lethal to chronic. Even long term exposure at low (non-lethal) levels can be harmful. Chronic damage can include: impaired sense of smell or memory; reduced fecundity; altered feeding behaviour and reduced food intake including reduced foraging in bees; altered tunneling behaviour in earthworms; difficulty in flight and increased susceptibility to disease.

“The evidence is very clear. We are witnessing a threat to the productivity of our natural and farmed environment equivalent to that posed by organophosphates or DDT," said Dr Jean-Marc Bonmatin of The National Centre for Scientific Research in France, one of the lead authors of the study. " Far from protecting food production, the use of neonics is threatening the very infrastructure which enables it, imperilling the pollinators, habitat engineers and natural pest controllers at the heart of a functioning ecosystem.”

The analysis found that the most affected groups of species were terrestrial invertebrates such as earthworms which are exposed at high levels via soil and plants, medium levels via surface water and leaching from plants and low levels via air (dusts). Both individuals and populations can be adversely affected at even low levels and by acute (ongoing) exposure. This makes them highly vulnerable to the levels of neonics associated with agricultural use.

The next most affected group is insect pollinators such as bees and butterflies which are exposed to high contamination through air and plants and medium exposure levels through water. Both individuals and populations can be adversely affected by low or acute exposure making them highly vulnerable. Then comes aquatic invertebrates such as freshwater snails and water fleas which are vulnerable to low and acute exposure and can be affected at the individual, population and community levels.

While vertebrate animals are generally less susceptible, bird populations are at risk from eating crop seeds treated with systemic insecticides, and reptile numbers have declined due to depletion of their insect prey. Microbes were found to be affected after high levels of or prolonged exposure. Samples taken in water from around the world have been found to exceed ecotoxicological limits on a regular basis.

In addition to contaminating non-target species through direct exposure (e.g. insects consuming nectar from treated plants), the chemicals are also found in varying concentrations outside intentionally-treated areas. The water solubility of neonics mean that they leach and run-off easily and have been found to contaminate much wider areas leading to both chronic and acute exposure of organisms, including in riparian zones, estuarine and coastal marine systems.

They have become the most widely used group of insecticides globally, with a global market share now estimated at around 40% and sales of over US$2.63 billion in 2011. They are also commonly used in domestic treatments to prevent fleas in cats and dogs and termites in wood structures.

“The findings of the WIA are gravely worrying,” said Maarten Bijleveld van Lexmond, Chair of the Task Force. “We can now clearly see that neonics and fipronil pose a risk to ecosystem functioning and services which go far beyond concerns around one species and which really must warrant government and regulatory attention.”

Honey bees have been at the forefront of concern about neonics and fipronil to date and limited actions have been taken, for example by the EU Commission, but manufacturers of these neurotoxicants have refuted any claims of harm. In reviewing all the available literature rather than simply comparing one report with another, the WIA has found that field-realistic concentrations of neonics adversely affect individual navigation, learning, food collection, longevity, resistance to disease and fecundity of bees. For bumblebees, irrefutable colony-level effects have been found, with exposed colonies growing more slowly and producing significantly fewer queens.

The authors strongly suggest that regulatory agencies apply more precautionary principles and further tighten regulations on neonicotinoids and fipronil and start planning for a global phase-out or at least start formulating plans for a strong reduction of the global scale of use.

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Iconic Okavango Delta becomes 1,000th World Heritage site

22 June 2014
The Okavango Delta
Photo: John Mendelsohn

Botswana’s Okavango Delta, one of the most iconic natural areas on the planet, has been listed as 1,000th World Heritage site today. The decision follows the recommendation of IUCN, UNESCO’s advisory body on nature.

“The Okavango Delta has long been considered one of the biggest gaps on the World Heritage list and IUCN is proud to have been able to provide support to this nomination,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN Director General. “We congratulate Botswana’s authorities on their extraordinary commitment to make this historic listing a reality.”

Situated in north-western Botswana, the Okavango Delta is a vast fan-shaped plain of permanent swamps and seasonally-flooded grassland, spanning an area roughly twice the size of Qatar, the host country of this year's World Heritage Committee meeting. Its extraordinary annual flooding, which occurs in the dry season, supports one of the greatest concentrations of wildlife in Africa.

African elephant in Botswana's Okavango Delta. Photo: Alicia WirzThe delta sustains the populations of some of the most threatened large mammals such as the Cheetah, the White and Black Rhinoceros, the Wild Dog and the Lion. It harbours 24 species of globally-threatened birds and is key to the survival of Botswana’s 130,000 elephants – the largest population of the species in the world.

“The Okavango Delta has been a conservation priority for more than 30 years and we are delighted that it has finally Okavango delta. Photo: Eliot Taylorgained the prestigious status it deserves,” says Tim Badman, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme. “Its ecological and biological importance as well as its exceptional natural beauty make it a prime example of what World Heritage stands for.”

Okavango supports the lives of thousands of people by providing freshwater, food, building materials, medicinal plants and employment through the tourism industry. The proposal for World Heritage listing was strongly backed by the indigenous peoples living in and around the delta, who have conserved the area for millennia.

Duba lilies, Okavango delta. Photo: Eliot Taylor“The Okavango Delta is an extraordinary and iconic wilderness area,” says Cyril Kormos, Vice Chair of World Heritage for IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas. “The good stewardship of the site by local communities over thousands of years truly exemplifies the close links between nature and culture. The delta has recently faced threats including from extractive industries and World Heritage listing will hopefully help keep these challenges at bay.”

The listing was announced today at the 38th World Heritage Committee meeting taking place in Doha, Qatar.

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

Ewa Magiera, IUCN Media Relations
m +41 76 505 33 78

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Protection of key Timneh parrot breeding area underway

20 June 2014
Timneh Grey Parrot
Photo: World Parrot Trust

The Timneh Parrot breeding season is now underway on the Bijagós islands of Guinea-Bissau, according to SOS Grantee Rowan Martin of the World Parrot Trust, an IUCN member. The Vulnerable Timneh Parrot (Psittacus timneh) has long been subject to high levels of trapping for the pet trade, leading to dramatic declines in populations.

While breeding should boost the population, it is during this time Timneh Parrots are especially vulnerable to poaching - chicks taken from nests and raised by hand make highly desirable pets. A large proportion of the remaining Timneh Parrots in Guinea-Bissau nest on João-Vieira island within the João-Vieira Poilão National park, which is part of the Bijagós archipelago. It is here that vital nest monitoring and protection work is taking place as part of an SOS funded project coordinated by the World Parrot Trust and implemented in Guinea-Bissau by the national Institute of Biodiversity and Protected Areas (IBAP) in collaboration with researchers at ISPA – Instituto Universitário, Portugal.

Bijagós islands, Guinea-Bissau - Timneh Parrot Habitat. Photo: Rowan MartinEarly in 2014 a field team, which included former parrot trappers from the Bijagós islands, local field ornithologists and researchers from Portugal received training on accessing and monitoring parrot nests. As Timneh Parrots generally make their nests in cavities high in mature trees, monitoring nests is not without risk. The team were trained in rope access techniques, to ensure nests could be accessed efficiently and safely. In addition camera traps Training of former parrot hunter in the Bijagós islands. Photo: Rowan Martinmonitor nests round the clock. These activities not only act as deterrents to would-be poachers, but also generate valuable data on the breeding biology of this little known species.

Timneh (along with the closely related Grey) Parrots are some of the most popular avian pets, yet surprisingly little is known about populations in the wild. Both adults and chicks continue to be trapped and exported to meet Quiet but easy to access islands. Photo: Rowan Martininternational demand, sucking large numbers of birds from the wild. However there is almost no monitoring of the effect this is having on populations and few breeding areas are known. The monitoring and protection activities recently initiated in the Bijagós islands are an incredibly important step towards improving the conservation outlook for this species and the wildlife of this special group of islands off the coast of West Africa.

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IUCN welcomes emphatic ‘no’ to extractives in World Heritage

19 June 2014
Gorilla at Virunga National Park
Photo: IUCN Photo Library / © Gérard Collin

Following IUCN’s advice, the World Heritage Committee has sent a strong message to oil and gas and other extractive industries not to operate in World Heritage sites. The message came during discussions about World Heritage sites in Danger, including Africa’s iconic Virunga National Park, at the annual World Heritage Committee meeting taking place in Doha, Qatar.

Four days before the meeting began, British oil company SOCO announced its intention to stay clear of all World Heritage sites and stop any exploratory activities in Virunga National Park within 30 days, “unless UNESCO and the DRC government agree that such activities are not incompatible with its World Heritage status.”

Two days ago, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee and IUCN provided a clear response: no extractive company anywhere in the world should attempt to carry out exploration or extraction activities in World Heritage sites.

“There is consensus that extractive industries are not compatible with World Heritage status,” says Tim Badman, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme, UNESCO’s advisory body on natural World Heritage. “Virunga has been danger-listed for 20 years but it has not lost its outstanding values and international efforts are still focused on its conservation.”

Deep concerns were recently expressed over oil concessions in Virunga granted to Total and SOCO. Fortunately, both companies have now committed to the ‘no-go’ principle that applies to World Heritage sites. However concerns were raised that Virunga’s boundaries could still be modified if oil resources are found.

Virunga National Park. Photo: Jan Joseph Stock“World Heritage sites should not be modified for the sake of oil exploitation,” says Cyril Kormos, Vice Chair of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas. “After the World Heritage Committee’s numerous calls to stop extractive operations in Virunga National Park, we are pleased to see SOCO acknowledging its responsibility. This is definitely a step in the right direction.”

50.000 people obtain clean water and fish from the ecosystems in Virunga National Park. Photo: Jan Joseph StockVirunga National Park has the highest concentration of biodiversity on the entire African continent. Extending from volcanoes to semi-arid savanna, its natural resources rely on the fresh water provided by Lake Edward, a large part of which is covered by SOCO’s prospective exploration. The lake is also critical for the livelihoods of over 50,000 families, who largely rely on fishing.

Africa’s oldest national park has faced numerous threats over the years, including armed conflict, poaching and illegal charcoal production. In the last four years alone, 16 park rangers were killed in action. Despite all this, Virunga has been able to maintain its values thanks to emergency measures and extraordinary conservation efforts by the park’s management.

Committee discussions on World Heritage sites affected by threats or serious conservation issues conclude today in Doha, Qatar.

For more information:

Célia Zwahlen, IUCN World Heritage Programme Communications

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Illegal trade puts more World Heritage sites in danger

18 June 2014
Hippos in the Rufiji River in the Selous Game Reserve, Tanzania
Photo: Jim Thorsell

Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve has been listed as World Heritage in Danger due to unprecedented levels of illegal wildlife trade, as announced today at the 38th annual World Heritage Committee meeting in Doha, Qatar.

The decision, which aims to trigger international action to protect the site, follows the advice of IUCN – the official World Heritage advisory body on nature.

“Illegal wildlife trade and elephant poaching in particular remain at an alarmingly high level and Tanzania is one of the source countries that are most heavily affected by it,” says Tim Badman, Director of IUCN’s World Heritage Programme. “We hope that placing Selous on the List of World Heritage in Danger as well as Tanzania’s positive response to the decision will strengthen the international cooperation that is so urgently needed to tackle the problem and help the site recover its outstanding values.”

Elephant and rhino poaching, triggered by the international demand for ivory and rhino horn, continues to escalate in Selous, which is one of the largest remaining wilderness areas in Africa. Its elephant population dropped from 70,000 in 2005 to 13,000 in 2013, and a recent survey shows a decline of almost 90% compared to 1982, the year the site was inscribed on the World Heritage List. Selous’ black rhino population has also declined dramatically.

Despite IUCN’s recommendation, Thailand’s Dong Phayayen-Khao Yai Forest Complex has not been inscribed on the Danger List but will be considered for possible inscription next year. Illegal logging of Siamese Rosewood and other valuable timber species in the site has risen dramatically in the recent years, making it increasingly difficult for park officials to control it. The logging is carried out by armed gangs and often involves violent encounters with park staff. The site is internationally important for the survival and conservation of globally threatened mammals, birds and reptiles.

Shelburne Bay, Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Photo: IUCN/Jim ThorsellAlso discussed at the meeting in Doha, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef faces a range of threats, including water quality impacts, climate change and proposals for coastal developments. The site will be considered for possible inscription on the World Heritage Danger List in 2015.

“Although we are very concerned about the range of threats within the Great Barrier Reef, we welcome the positive action being taken by Australia, which is expected to lead to a major new plan for the long-term protection of the Great Barrier Reef over the next year,” says Tim Badman. “This is one of the most iconic of all World Heritage sites, and the World Heritage Committee’s decision signals the exceptional level of international concern for its protection.”

IUCN’s recommendation to list Kenya’s Lake Turkana National Parks as ‘in danger’ will be discussed by the Committee tomorrow. This is the fourth consecutive year that IUCN has recommended danger-listing for this site due to a major dam construction and the development of large-scale irrigation schemes. The developments threaten not only the site’s natural resources but also local communities that depend on them for survival.

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

In Doha:

Célia Zwahlen, IUCN World Heritage Programme Communications
m +974 305 33 889

In Switzerland:

Ewa Magiera, IUCN Media Relations
m +41 76 505 33 78

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Remembering Dra Ángela Leiva Sánchez

18 June 2014
Ángela Teresita Leiva Sánchez

It is with great sadness and shock that SSC has learned of the death of Dra Ángela Leiva Sánchez, Chair of the Cuba Plant Specialist Group. Ángela was a committed leader of the conservation community in Cuba. Members of SSC remember her as a brave woman responsible for creating a community of botanists in Cuba that is very well organized and doing excellent work.

Ángela was thoroughly involved in the negotiation of the Global Plant Strategy for Plant Conservation and Jane Smart recalls Ángela as a great and forceful advocate for wild plant conservation. She was also a very good teacher who prepared a large group of young conservationists who will now continue her work.

SSC Chair, Dr Simon Stuart has sent condolences to Dra Ángela Leiva Sánchez’s family and colleagues on behalf of the Species Survival Commission of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). We shall remain forever grateful for the work that Dra Ángela Leiva Sánchez did as Chair of the IUCN SSC Cuban Plant Specialist Group. She leaves very large shoes to fill. If you would like to add some words of condolence or share your memories of Ángela, please post your text here.

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Saola Field Notes: Reconnaissance patrol into the Kalo region of the Xe Sap National Protected Area, Viet Nam

17 June 2014
4-5 months old Saola female.
Photo: David Hulse

SOS grantee Michael Dine of WWF, an IUCN member, has been updating SOS on field activities from his project to help protect the Critically Endangered Saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis). This is one of two SOS funded projects helping to protect the little known and rarely seen forest bovid – cousin to antelopes, cattle and goats. What follows is Michael’s report of a successful reconnaissance patrol in difficult terrain and conditions – which also indicates several of the practical challenges one faces when trying to protect a species.

In August 2013, a six-person team lead by WWF-Laos staff conducted a six-day reconnaissance patrol in the Kalo region of eastern Xe Sap National Protected Area (NPA) along the Laos / Viet Nam border. Its three main objectives were to: identify ‘hotspots’ of illegal hunting activity; identify potential patrol routes; and find base locations from which to stage further multi-day patrols. The Kalo region covers 68 km², and its extremely mountainous terrain limited the survey to approximately 30 km² of the southeast sector.

Illegal camp discovered by patrol. Photo: Khamhou ThongsamouthJoining the team leader were key actors in the establishment of patrol activities in Kalo, including Provincial and District Natural Resource and Environment staff, a soldier from the border army and the local village cluster leader. Illegal poachers are known to shoot at law enforcement officers, so two members of the team carried firearms for protection.

Entry to this remote section of the Xe Sap NPA was made via the Adot border crossing in Viet Nam, and the patrol Illegal logging tractor trailer combination. Photo: Khamhou Thongsamouthcontinued along an original section of the Ho Chi Minh Trail into Laos – an unsealed, one lane road used by local traffic and vehicles engaged in illegal logging and mining. To track down illegal hunting ‘hotspots’, the team followed standard Xe Sap NPA patrol procedures, travelling along streams and watercourses before veering off up smaller streams and onto trails into the forest above.

During the six-day patrol, the team found and destroyed four recently used illegal camps, confiscated 50 unused Reconnaissance patrol route along a stream. Photo: Khamhou Thongsamouthsnares and two hunting knives. In each illegal camp, the personal documents of people from the neighbouring Vietnamese district of A Luoi were recovered, clearly indicating the main actors engaged in illegal hunting in this area.

The team found a high density of snares and uncovered ample evidence of significant populations of large fauna. They observed noteworthy species including Hornbills, Silver Pheasant and Crested Argus, and found traces - Illegally cut timber. Photo: Khamhou Thongsamouthscats and footprints - of a variety of ungulates and small carnivores. A variety of other threats to fauna were also seen, including shifting cultivation, logging and gold and zinc mining.

Regular patrols have been scheduled for this southeast sector of Kalo beginning October 2013. A second reconnaissance patrol was scheduled for October 2013 to survey the northeast sector of Kalo, clearing the way for further patrol activities to begin.A variety of other threats to fauna also seen including shifting cultivation patterns. Photo: Khamhou Thongsamouth

Finally, arrangements have been made with local people to construct the first of two camp patrol outposts in 2014.

Such achievements represent small but critical steps on the way to enhancing protection for the Saola. We look forward to sharing more news and reports from both Saola projects soon.

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