19,000 Species Now in Danger of Extinction


An endangered Panamanian Golden Frog. Photo credit: Brian Gratwickle via Flickr/CC BY

That's a lot of species. And it's roughly 9,000 more than were endangered just over ten years ago, in 2000. That's the finding of the latest report from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN): There are now roughly 19,000 species that are currently threatened with extinction around the world. So why the jump? The usual suspects -- deforestation, poaching, climate change, pollution, and invasive species -- are largely to blame. But scientists have also done a remarkable job of discovering new species over the last decade or so -- and many of those are immediately whisked onto the watch list.

The Economist elaborates on the study of those 19,000 species are in peril, noting that "Of those [species] evaluated, nearly one-third are considered "threatened" (critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable). Between 2000 and 2011 the number of species assessed by the IUCN grew by over 60%."

The newspaper notes that "Amphibians ... for example, were not "completely evaluated" (with more than 90% of species assessed) until 2004." And again, that partly explains why the case looks so bad for amphibians -- which show the most remarkable decline since the last report. But the main reason that we've seen such a severe drop-off is that, well, there's been a really, really severe drop-off in amphibian populations. Amphibians, which are expressly adapted to survive in a specific set of natural parameters, are extremely vulnerable to changing climate. And deforestation and pollution hit them especially hard, too.

arabian oryx photo

The recovering Arabian Oryx. Photo credit: *clarity* via Flickr/CC BY

But it's not all doom and gloom, according to the IUCN. Here's the Economist again: "The news is best for mammals, whose complete dataset has made evaluation easier. The percentage of endangered species has actually fallen since 2000. And one antelope in particular, the Arabian Oryx, which was hunted to near extinction, now has a wild population of over 1,000."

Success stories like those are nice, but they're becoming outliers in a world that may be experiencing what scientists are terming the sixth extinction, due to the rate that species are dying off.

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