IUCN Red List assessments reveal that growing human pressures on Bornean orangutans are putting this species at an increasing risk of extinction. Bornean orangutans are now listed as Critically Endangered – only one step from going extinct. Photo: Mike Prince

8 July 2016 (IUCN) – New IUCN Red List assessments reveal that growing human pressures on whale sharks, winghead sharks and Bornean orangutans are putting these species at an increasing risk of extinction. Whale sharks and winghead sharks are now listed as Endangered and Bornean orangutans as Critically Endangered – only one step from going extinct.

“It is alarming to see such emblematic species slide towards extinction,” says Jane Smart, Director of IUCN's Global Species Programme. “These new IUCN Red List assessments emphasise how urgent it is for the conservation community to act strategically to protect our planet’s incredible diversity of life. The world’s oceans and forests will only continue to provide us with food and other benefits if we preserve their capacity to do so.”

Numbers of whale sharks (Rhincodon typus), the world’s largest living fish, have more than halved over the last 75 years as these slow-moving sharks continue to be fished and killed by ship propellers.

Although conservation action in India, the Philippines, and Taiwan has ended large-scale fishing of whale sharks in these countries, they continue to be fished in other locations, including southern China and Oman. As whale sharks and tuna are often present together, they are frequently caught by fishers targeting tuna. 

“While international whale shark trade is regulated through the species’ listing on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), more needs to be done domestically to protect whale sharks at a national level,” says Simon Pierce, lead Red List assessor, member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC) Shark Specialist Group, and co-founder of the Marine Megafauna Foundation.

Whale shark. New IUCN Red List assessments reveal that growing human pressures on whale sharks and winghead sharks are putting these species at an increasing risk of extinction. Whale sharks and winghead sharks are now listed as Endangered. Photo: Andre Seale / IUCN Photo Library

Unregulated fishing is also behind the fast-falling numbers of the distinctive winghead shark (Eusphyra blochii), whose morphology makes it extremely vulnerable to entanglement in fishing nets. This species of hammerhead shark has moved from Near Threatened to Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Although it is difficult to say how many individuals remain, recent surveys of fish markets in Indonesia found only one winghead shark among approximately 20,000 sharks of other species. A similar pattern is expected throughout Asian countries where coastal fishing is intense and largely unregulated.

Another IUCN Red List assessment reveals that the Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) has moved from Endangered to Critically Endangered – the highest risk category assigned by the IUCN Red List.

Bornean orangutan populations are declining as the forests they live in are turned into oil palm, rubber or paper plantations, and others are killed by humans.

“This is the first time in many decades that we have a clear understanding of Bornean orangutan population trends,” says Erik Meijaard, one of the assessors of the species, member of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group and director of Borneo Futures – an initiative dedicated to preserving Borneo’s biodiversity. “As orangutans are hunted and pushed out of their habitats, losses to this slow-breeding species are enormous and will be extremely difficult to reverse.”

A full update to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, including assessments of many other species, will be announced at the IUCN World Conservation Congress 2016 to be held in Hawai’i from 1 to 10 September.

The IUCN Congress is expected to see key decisions on improving the governance of the high seas under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and mitigating the impacts of palm oil expansion, among other issues.

Whale sharks, winghead sharks and Bornean orangutans slide towards extinction

Regional insecurity and oil industry activities in the Sahara desert have pushed the addax – a migratory species of desert-adapted antelope – to the edge of extinction, according to an IUCN survey which found only three surviving in the wild. Photo: Thomas Rabeil / Sahara Conservation Fund

6 May 2016 (IUCN) – Regional insecurity and oil industry activities in the Sahara desert have pushed the addax – a migratory species of desert-adapted antelope – to the very knife-edge of extinction according to a recent survey which found only three surviving in the wild.

An extensive survey in March across key addax habitat identified just three remaining individuals, report experts from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), two of its Members working in the region – the Sahara Conservation Fund (SCF) and the NGO Noé, as well as the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).

National legislation in Niger fully protects the addax, meaning hunting and the removal of live addax for any reason are strictly forbidden. It is also protected under the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) because historical habitat extends into neighbouring Chad.

Yet the addax has suffered massive disturbance from oil installations in Niger operated by the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and associated encroachment of desert-going lorries and bulldozers. Moreover, the assignment of military personnel to protect the oil industry means illegal hunting by soldiers has increased poaching levels considerably in its last remaining haven, and Africa’s largest protected area, the Termit & Tin-Toumma National Nature Reserve in eastern Niger.

Dr Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Director of IUCN Global Species Programme says: "We are witnessing in real time the extinction of this iconic and once plentiful species – without immediate intervention, the addax will lose its battle for survival in the face of illegal, uncontrolled poaching and the loss of its habitat. On behalf of all concerned parties we are recommending a set of emergency measures to help save the addax from imminent extinction.”

The measures proposed by the experts from the conservation groups include securing the remaining population of addax; stopping poaching by soldiers and engaging with CNPC to cooperate on preventing the extinction of the addax; as well as reinforcing the existing population through the introduction of captive-bred stock.

The increase in poaching also comes against a backdrop of escalating insecurity across the region. The collapse of Libya in 2011 saw an exodus of militia with arms and 4x4 vehicles to neighbouring countries into areas harbouring important wildlife populations. This also fuelled subsequent insurgencies in Mali and northern Nigeria which have added to the instability, and the formerly remote habitats of the addax have become major crossroads for the illicit trade of wildlife, arms, drugs and migrants.

Dr Thomas Rabeil of the Sahara Conservation Fund says: “Those with commercial interests in the desert could make important contributions to the protection of the addax by cooperating with the wildlife authorities and by adopting more sensitive practices, becoming stakeholders in the management of protected areas and by sharing sightings of these elusive animals with conservationists.”

The situation for the addax has deteriorated precipitously since 2010 when an initial round of surveys estimated the population at 200 animals. Since then, conservationists have designed a three-pronged action plan to stabilise the situation by locating the remaining addax and assessing their status. The plan aims to boost ongoing efforts to build the capacity of Niger’s wildlife service to protect the addax and manage the Termit & Tin Toumma Reserve in close collaboration with the local population. The third, critical part of the plan is to engage with the Niger authorities and Chinese business interests to bring poaching under control and minimise the impact of oil-related activities, especially on prime addax habitat.

Arnaud Greth, Chairman of Noé, says: “Working in coordination with the Ministry of Environment, Noé has focused on reinforcing the capacities of the Management Unit in the Termit & Tin Toumma Protected Area and supporting Niger’s conservation policy to strengthen addax conservation in the field. But human pressures are increasing faster than we can adapt given the current level of resource support for the Addax and the large distribution range of the addax in the largest terrestrial protected area in Africa.”

Extensive aerial and ground surveys funded in part by IUCN’s SOS – Save Our Species initiative and Saint Louis Zoo and performed by SCF during March 2016 indicated the addax was facing imminent extinction, however. Using cutting-edge Intelligence Reconnaissance and Surveillance (IRS) technologies, including infra-red capture and ultra-high resolution cameras capable of distinguishing species from the air, the survey covered more than 3,200 km of transects across key addax habitat using a C-208 Cessna Caravan aircraft hired from the Niger air force. Unfortunately, researchers could not identify one animal following 18 hours of flight time.

Meanwhile the ground team searched over 700 km of prime addax habitat and other areas where others had seen addax tracks during the previous six months. After following some tracks for over 10 km, the ground team confirmed sightings of one small group: three very nervous addax individuals.

Several species of antelope once occurred in large numbers across vast tracts of the Sahara desert and surrounding Sahelian grasslands. In the recent past, over a million Scimitar-horned oryx ranged across North Africa from the Atlantic to the River Nile for example. However, the species had disappeared from the wild by the 1990s because of uncontrolled hunting and loss of habitat. Now one more of its close relatives – the iconic addax – is perilously close to sharing that fate.

Saharan addax antelope faces imminent extinction



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