PORTLAND, Ore. Dec. 10, 2019 — More than 1 in 4 species assessed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature are facing extinction, according to a report released today. The group also noted some successes, including reintroduction of the Guam rail to Cocos Island, moving the species status from “extinct in the wild” to “critically endangered.”
The flightless rail is only the second bird species to be reintroduced after going extinct in the wild. The first was the California condor, reintroduced in the mid-1990s after a successful captive-breeding program.
“We’re in the midst of a staggering wildlife extinction crisis that humans have never witnessed before,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We also have some of the most powerful tools on the planet to combat this crisis, especially the Endangered Species Act. It’s saving the Guam rail and it can save other species, but we have to act fast and be bold.”
The new report updates the “Red List of Threatened Species,” identifying 30,178 species as threatened with extinction out of 112,432 assessed (27%). The list is a limited sampling of species on the brink. Earlier this year the United Nations estimated that 1 million species worldwide face extinction in the coming decade.
The last Guam rail was killed on its namesake island by an invasive brown tree snake in 1987. Following a 35-year captive-breeding effort under the Endangered Species Act, the species was successfully reintroduced to neighboring Cocos Island, which is free of the bird-eating snakes.
Sadly, the IUCN also announced, a Hawaiian bird called the po‘ouli is now considered officially extinct, along with three other bird species: the cryptic treehunter, Alagoas foliage-gleaner and Spix’s macaw. The po‘ouli was protected under the Endangered Species Act in 1975 and last seen in 2004. Like many of Hawaii’s honeycreepers, it was driven extinct by habitat loss and the introduction of mosquitoes that carry avian malaria and pox.
“The loss of the po‘ouli shows us we have to do more to protect species from extinction, including dramatically increasing funding and enforcement of the Endangered Species Act,” said Greenwald. “Instead the Trump administration has issued regulations weakening the Act and has undercut its implementation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies.”
The previous update of the IUCN Red List found 26,840 species threatened with extinction, out of 96,951 then assessed. Climate change continues to be an important driver of species imperilment, with a number of species found to have declined in part due to our warming world, including the shorttail nurse shark and Dominica’s imperial parrot.
A total of 1,630 species are identified as threatened in the United States. Amphibians continue to be the most imperiled group of animals, with 41% threatened worldwide.