- Southeast Asian countries face the highest rate of habitat loss, and have the highest proportion of species that are threatened with extinction.
- Given the urgency to save these species, the IUCN Species Survival Commission, together with other international conservation organizations have come together to form the Asian Species Action Partnership (ASAP!).
- ASAP prioritizes conservation of critically endangered species in Southeast Asia.
Species in Southeast Asia are in crisis. Compared with most other regions, Southeast Asian countries — Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam — have a higher proportion of species that are categorized as threatened on the IUCN Red List.
Southeast Asia also harbors large numbers of endemic species, and faces the highest rate of habitat loss compared to South America, Meso-America, and Sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, some studies have estimated that Southeast Asian countries could lose more than 60 percent of endemic taxa by 2100.
Moreover, achieving conservation goals in these countries remains a big challenge due to lack of resources and funding, corruption, apathy, poverty, and booming human populations.
Given the staggering rate at which species are disappearing in the region, and the urgency to save them, the IUCN Species Survival Commission and other international conservation organizations have come together to form the Asian Species Action Partnership (ASAP!).
The main aim of ASAP is to “mobilize support where it is urgently needed, drawing on the collaborative expertise of conservation practitioners; pooling resources, maximizing efficiency and influencing political will by communicating the issues to a global audience”.
ASAP prioritizes conservation of critically endangered species in Southeast Asia, such as the charismatic Sumatran Rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis), the Siamese Crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis) and the Sumatran Orangutan (Pongo abelii), as well as numerous lesser-known, but critical species, such as Sir David’s long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus attenboroughi), the Philippine cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia) and the Bleeding Toad (Leptophryne cruentata).
“Nearly all species identified by the ASAP need immediate action,” Rachel Roberts, IUCN SSC Network Coordination Officer, said in a statement. “We recognize that this initiative faces some very stiff challenges, but the channeling of collaborative efforts to where they are urgently needed will be crucial in saving the future of this region’s rich and incredible biodiversity.”
In an interview with Mongabay, Madhu Rao, ASAP Development Coordinator, talks about how ASAP was conceived, what the initiative aims to achieve, and what challenges it anticipates.
AN INTERVIEW WITH MADHU RAO
When and how was the concept of “Asian Species Action Partnership” born?
The concept for the partnership was a response to the alarming results of a comprehensive Global Mammal Assessment in 2008. This was a program to assess the conservation status of world’s mammal species for the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, and showed that Southeast Asia had by far the highest concentration of species on the edge of extinction of any largely continental region in the world.
Asian Species Action Partnership (ASAP!) is an interagency coalition to address the extinction risk among the most threatened non-marine vertebrates of Southeast Asia. Organizations within the international conservation community are joining forces to minimise impending extinctions in this area of the world, where habitat loss, trade and hunting has contributed to a dramatic loss of its rich and incredible biodiversity
How is it distinct from other species conservation initiatives?
ASAP can be viewed as an emergency call with a species-specific response, aimed at focusing attention on a region that, without more serious conservation intervention, is likely to see the demise of much of its unique diversity of charismatic fauna.
By mobilising support where it is urgently needed, drawing on the collaborative expertise of conservation practitioners, pooling resources and efforts to maximise efficiency, and galvanising political will, ASAP hopes to minimise extinctions which could be imminent within the next two to three decades.
It is distinct in that it is very specific- geographically. The focus is entirely on species listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List and actually doesn’t include the usual list of species such as elephants, tigers, snow leopards. ASAP focuses attention on lesser known species that are not currently the focus of any conservation attention.
Why does ASAP target only critically endangered species in Southeast Asia? And why does the list exclude marine vertebrates?
This is primarily to ensure that the approach is strategic and to avoid stretching ourselves too thin. If we can get the model right for the species that need it most-the critically endangered species, then we can figure out a way of including marine vertebrates. Its also a matter of limited resources.
What are some of the initial steps ASAP plans to take (or has already taken) to ensure conservation of the critical list of species?
ASAP has helped to catalyze the red listing assessment of certain groups of critically Endangered species such as Freshwater Fish and helped convene strategic planning for three critically endangered species. ASAP aims to catalyze and initiate new partnerships for species conservation.
What has been the reaction of conservation groups and/or scientists to this new initiative? How about governments?
Conservation groups welcome the initiative as a mechanism to focus and streamline action for critically endangered species in Southeast Asia. Governments are not yet a part of this initiative- the next step will be to begin to engage Southeast Asian Governments.
What are some of the biggest challenges you foresee?
I think one of the biggest challenges will be to fill knowledge gaps as that would be the first step towards catalysing action for critically endangered species. Secondly, identifying new sources of financial support for critically endangered species conservation will also be a challenge. Thirdly, leveraging the political will to acknowledge and act on the crisis will be critically important.
Continuing with business as usual is not an option and yet creating the change necessary for urgent action that will be impactful poses an unprecedented challenge.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
There’s a need for Conservation Organizations, Zoos, Governments and donors to align and streamline actions towards critically endangered species- ASAP provides a platform to do that.