International Union for Conservation of Nature on Thursday designated North Atlantic right whales as “critically endangered” on its Red List of Threatened Species, the last classification before they’re considered extinct or “gone from the wild.”
The report indicate that, nearly all of Madagascar’s much-loved lemurs are under threat, and almost one-third are just one step away from extinction, largely due to deforestation and hunting on the giant island off eastern Africa.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature, updating its “red list” of threatened species, said the lemurs are increasingly imperiled a key finding in a broad warning about the impacts of human activity on fauna and flora across the globe. The report shows that 32,441 species out of a total of 120,372 face extinction.
The Swiss-based conservancy also warns that North Atlantic Right Whales are nearing extinction: Not only are they increasingly ensnared in fishing gear but they’re colliding more with ships, possibly a result of climate change that drives their migratory patterns northward into shipping lanes.
Only about 250 adults remain, the assessment by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said, including 100 breeding females. Collisions with ships, entanglements in fishing nets and underwater noise pollution are killing the animals, which rely on echolocation for basic activities such as feeding, communicating and finding mates, the internationalnal nature body says.
“It just helps underline the fact that we are moving into a sixth extinction era. It is all due to human activities,” said Craig Hilton-Taylor, the head of the IUCN red list in a video interview from Cambridge, England. He cited human impacts like the introduction of species to places where they don’t belong; the overuse of species; clearing of forests to make way for agriculture; urbanization; pollution; “and of course, climate change.”
The red list breaks down threatened species into vulnerable, endangered and critically endangered categories, the last involving those closest to extinction. Some 33 of the species of lemurs, which live only in Madagascar, are critically endangered and 98 percent are threatened.
“We now have less than 10 percent of the original forest in Madagascar left. So naturally, this has a huge impact on species that are dependent on those forests, like lemurs,” Hilton-Taylor said, alluding to “slash and burn” agriculture there. He said more lemur species are being hunted for their meat, too.
He recommended efforts to help improve farmers’ livelihoods so they can avoid forest-depleting agricultural techniques.
Hilton-Taylor said the whales’ reproduction rates are falling, and cited a theory that warming sea temperatures could be driving the whales northward into the shipping lanes of the Gulf of St Lawrence in the northern hemisphere summer.
He said the Canadian and U.S. governments have presented recovery plans for the whales, such as by warning ships when the creatures are present in the area and devising fishing systems that run a lower risk of entanglement.
Overall, Hilton-Taylor said, the report suggested the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated a pause from the usually frenetic economic and human activity that impacts wildlife.
“We need to take a hard, long, hard look at ourselves,” he said, saying species can be saved. “This is our opportunity to really transform society.”
The updated status highlights the need to protect a species that is believed to have fewer than 400 animals left, with only about 85 reproductive females, environmental advocates said. The IUCN, a leading global conservation organization, found their population declined by 15 percent between 2011 and 2018 and estimated there are only about 250 mature whales left.
“The dramatic declines of species such as the North Atlantic right whale … highlight the gravity of the extinction crisis,” Jane Smart, global director of IUCN’s biodiversity conservation group, said in a statement. “The world needs to act fast to halt species’ population declines and prevent human-driven extinctions.”
The International Union for Conservation of Nature, one of the world’s largest organizations of conservation scientists, says protecting 30 per cent of the planet’s oceans is vital to keep ecosystems functioning.