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One In Four Mammal Species At Risk Of Extinction, Report Shows

World Wildlife Fund Says Governments Must Address Habitat Loss, Pollution And Climate Change

WASHINGTON, D.C., October 6, 2008 – World Wildlife Fund said today that governments must double their efforts to save endangered species, as the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List revealed that one in four of the world’s 5,487 known mammal species was at risk of extinction. Species such as tree kangaroos, narwhals and Irrawaddy dolphins are now closer to extinction, say WWF scientists who helped compile the list and work around the world to save endangered species and habitats.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species was compiled by 1,800 experts from 130 countries and ranks species according to their population status and threat levels.  It shows the effects that habitat loss and degradation, over-exploitation, pollutants and climate change are having on the world’s species.

“The math is simple: Threats are increasing and species populations are decreasing,” said Dr. Sybille Klenzendorf, Managing Director of World Wildlife Fund’s Species Program. “Unless we address these threats immediately the Red List will only get longer.”

The Irrawaddy dolphin went from data deficient to vulnerable on the new list, confirming that the dolphin, found in southeast Asia, is facing serious threats from bycatch in fisheries, dam development, deforestation and mining.  One population in the Philippines has a total of only 77 individuals. 

The narwhal, which is famous for its long ivory tusk, went from data deficient to near threatened.  Narwhals spend their lives in the arctic waters bordering Russia, North America, and Greenland and are threatened by hunting, trade, habitat loss and toxics and pollution that accumulate in the Arctic, which affect the health and reproduction of these whales.

Fourteen tree kangaroo species are on the Red List, with their status ranging from threatened to critically endangered, which highlights the fact that the species are in an overall decline due to deforestation of their ranges in Australia and New Guinea, as well as hunting.   

But not all species are “in the red,” with African elephants going from being listed as vulnerable to near threatened because their populations in eastern and southern Africa are better off today than in the past when poaching for ivory was out of control. 

“We are encouraged to see that the African savannah elephant is benefiting from effective conservation programs and ivory trade controls in eastern and southern Africa,” Klenzendorf said. “Forest elephants however are still dangerously low and seriously threatened, meaning governments, range states and conservationists need to remain diligent in their efforts to protect them.”

WWF supports use of the IUCN Red list as an important science-based conservation tool that should be used across the globe by communities, governments and international organizations to drive funding and decision making.

“We can reverse these trends when political motivation is high and local communities see the value and benefit from conserving species,” Klenzendorf said.  “African savannah elephants are a classic case study of what is possible.”


The Red List is developed by a voluntary network membership in Species Specialist groups. WWF works in close cooperation with IUCN across the globe, through field interventions, and by providing financial and technical support to various Species Specialist groups of the IUCN Species Survival Commission.

The IUCN Red List threat categories are the following, in descending order of threat:

  • Extinct or Extinct in the Wild;
  • Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable: species threatened with global extinction;
  • Near Threatened: species close to the threatened thresholds or that would be threatened without ongoing specific conservation measures;
  • Least Concern: species evaluated with a low risk of extinction;
  • Data Deficient: no assessment because of insufficient data.

WWF’s Living Planet Index, prepared in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London, is also a measure of the health of global biodiversity.  The 2008 Living Planet Report is scheduled for release on October 29.