Kiwis Bounce Back
New Zealand Birds a Bright Spot in Bleak Extinction Report
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Two types of New Zealand kiwi birds are a rare bright spot in a mostly grim assessment of global species at risk of extinction.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) upgraded the Okarito kiwi and the northern brown kiwi, pictured, from endangered to vulnerable, thanks to New Zealand’s progress in controlling predators such as stoats and cats. The conservation group’s latest update of its Red List of endangered species, however, mostly reported grave threats to animals and plants due to loss of habitat and unsustainable farming and fisheries practices.
The group said the Irrawaddy dolphin and finless porpoise that roam coastlines of Southeast Asia are now endangered, imperiled by entanglement in fishing nets and other human activities. Gillnets used on the Mekong River and in other major waterways “hang like curtains of death across the river and entrap everything in the stream,” said Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the Red List’s global species program.
Some 91,523 out of nearly 1.9 million described species have been assessed for the Red List, of which 25,821 are threatened, 866 are extinct and 69 extinct in the wild. The IUCN describes 11,783 species as vulnerable, 8,455 as endangered and 5,583 critically endangered.
The IUCN is made up of government and nongovernment experts whose scientific assessments of the risks to species are subject to independent reviews and are provided to help guide decisions on conservation efforts.
The organization aims to increase the number of assessed species to 160,000, said Jane Smart, global director of its biodiversity conservation program. The total number of species is unknown but is thought to be as many as 20 million, many of them microorganisms.
Behind the numbers are life-and-death struggles for survival as human populations grow and industrialize and habitats are transformed by climate change. Australia’s western ringtail possum has slipped from vulnerable to critically endangered, the IUCN said, as its population plunged by 80 percent over the past decade. Once widespread in peppermint and eucalyptus forests of Western Australia, it now has only a few fragmented habitats and is prone to heat stress at temperatures above 35 Celsius that are becoming increasingly common where it lives.
The group said three reptile species on Christmas Island, also in Australia, had gone extinct in the wild: the whiptail skink, the blue-tailed skink and Lister’s gecko. The group said the losses of reptiles could result from disease or infestations of the yellow crazy ant, which is listed by the IUCN and Global Invasive Species Database as one of the 100 worst invasive species.