New project to track endangered species returning from the edge of the abyss
After decades of recording alarming declines in animals and plants, conservation experts have taken a more proactive approach, with a new “Green Status” launched on Saturday, billed as the world’s first measure to track species recovery.
Since 1964, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has assessed some 138,000 species for its Red List of Threatened Species, a powerful tool for highlighting the plight of endangered wildlife.
Some 28% are currently at risk of disappearing forever.
Its new green status will serve as a companion to this survival watchlist, examining the extent to which species are depleted or restored from their historical population levels.
The initiative aims “to measure cash recoveries in a standardized way, which has never been done before,” said Green Status co-chair Molly Grace at a press conference on Saturday at the congress of IUCN in Marseille.
But it also seeks to “inspire conservation action”, with assessments of the effectiveness of past conservation efforts, as well as projections of the effectiveness of future ones.
It was born out of the realization that “preventing extinction on its own is not enough,” said Grace, a professor at the University of Oxford.
Beyond the first step of preventing a species from becoming extinct, “once it’s out of danger, what does recovery look like?” “
Efforts to halt significant declines in the numbers and diversity of animals and plants have largely failed to halt losses in the face of widespread habitat destruction, overexploitation and illegal wildlife trade.
In 2019, UN biodiversity experts warned that a million species were endangered.
The green status of more than 180 species has been assessed so far, though IUCN will someday hope to equal the tens of thousands on the Red List.
They are ranked on a sliding scale: from “fully recovered” to “slightly depleted”, “moderately depleted”, “largely depleted” and “critically depleted”.
When all else has failed, the final list is “extinct in the wild”.
While these categories reflect the Red List rankings, “it’s not just a reverse Red List,” Grace said.
She gave the example of an Australian pocket marsupial, the burrowing bettong, which has dropped in numbers and now only exists in five percent of its native range.
Successful conservation efforts have seen populations stabilize, with a Red List rating rising from threatened to near threatened in recent decades.
But Grace said the green status assessment underscores the species is not out of the woods, with a list of critically depleted species suggesting, “We have a long way to go before we get this species back.”
The listing also includes an assessment of what would have happened if nothing had been done to save a given species.
The California condor, for example, has been listed as Critically Endangered for three decades, despite significant investments in its preservation.
“Some people might think, ‘We’ve been trying to conserve the condor for 30 years, its Red List status has been critically endangered for 30 years, what is conservation actually doing for this species? “” Grace said.
But she said her team’s assessment of what would have happened without those protection efforts revealed that she would have gone extinct in the wild.
“What it does is it makes invisible conservation work visible. And I hope that will be really powerful in spurring and justifying the incredible work that environmentalists are doing,” Grace said.
A new “green status of species” measures the impact of conservation actions
© 2021 AFP
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