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Map pinpoints ‘last chance’ locations of endangered species

  • A new assessment updates the last known ranges for nearly 1,500 species of animals and plants at 853 locations around the world.
  • The three-year effort is aimed at helping scientists, governments and conservationists identify the threats that could lead to the extinction of these species and find ways to address them.
  • Governments are already using this information to identify target areas for conservation to protect the last remaining habitats of threatened species.
  • Nearly half of the sites identified lack formal protection, despite many of them having been flagged as important more than a decade ago.

A new map plots out the last known refuges of hundreds of highly threatened species around the world.

The assessment updates work done by the Alliance for Zero Extinction, or AZE, which began in 2005. It’s seen as a first step in limiting the reach of Earth’s “sixth mass extinction,” which many scientists agree is currently underway.

The AZE sites, which represent the only known locations where many of the world’s endangered or critically endangered species are found, were last updated in 2010. Since then, the AZE data set had become increasingly out of date, Ian Burfield, the leader of the assessment and BirdLife International’s global science coordinator, told Mongabay. This was because of a number of changes including those in taxonomy, IUCN Red List assessments and knowledge of the distributions and populations of species.

The pygmy hog has one viable population in the Manas National Park in India. Image by A. J. T. Johnsingh via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

“Also, many more species groups, including more plants and invertebrates, have been comprehensively assessed for the first time for the IUCN Red List since 2010, providing the opportunity to expand the taxonomic scope of AZEs,” Burfield said.

BirdLife International worked with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the American Bird Conservancy over the past three years to identify the ranges of nearly 1,500 animal and plant species. All are listed as either endangered or critically endangered by the IUCN.

The new map pinpoints 853 distinct spots, representing what Burfield says are “last chance” locations for some 1,483 endangered or critically endangered species. The 2010 assessment identified 588 refuges of 920 extremely threatened species.

In fact, around 400 sites on the 2018 list are newly recognized AZE sites. These include Marojejy National Park in Madagascar, home to the endangered naturelle leaf chameleon (Brookesia karchei), and the Tanoé Swamp Forest in Côte d’Ivoire, where the only known population of the critically endangered Miss Waldron’s red colobus (Piliocolobus waldronae) is believed to exist.

The assessment identified 853 sites in 109 countries. Image courtesy of the Alliance for Zero Extinction.

However, 43 percent of all the AZE sites on the new list don’t occur within designated protected areas.

“We were shocked to find that such a high proportion of AZE sites currently lack any formal protection,” Burfield said. “Even allowing for the fact that some of these sites have only now been recognised as AZEs for the first time, this is a shockingly low level of protection for sites that are literally the final refuges on earth for hundreds of endangered species. Many of these sites have been AZEs since the first assessment in 2005, and yet are still unprotected 13 years later.”

As a result of the new data, some sites have been removed from the 2010 assessment because their lack of protection either meant that the habitats of the species have been destroyed, or the species they were home to have gone extinct. “The consequences of inaction could not be clearer,” Burfield said.

It’s not all gloom, though. Of the 130-odd sites that are no longer in the 2018 list, many have also been removed because the threatened species they harbored have recovered to some extent.

A poison dart frog (Andinobates dorisswansonae) in Colombia that was formerly listed as critically endangered by the IUCN. Image © Mauricio Rivera Correa.

Moreover, leaders in some 20 countries are already using AZE sites to identify targets for conservation, according to Mike Parr, the American Bird Conservancy president and chairman.

“It’s been proven that well-managed protected areas prevent extinctions,” Parr said in a statement, adding that now, “we urgently need all 109 countries and territories with AZE sites to take action to protect these unique places.”

The project’s backers say the results should serve as a guide for future conservation aimed at staving off extinctions, especially now with the U.N. Biodiversity Conference currently underway in Egypt.

For example, two species of poison dart frog in Colombia are now listed as vulnerable by the IUCN, which conservationists attribute in part to the formation of the Ranita Dorada Amphibian Reserve that protected their habitat. Until 2014, both were AZE species: Andinobates dorisswansonae was listed as critically endangered, and Andinobates tolimensis was considered endangered.

“From the Amazon to Australia, well-informed conservation action is working to safeguard species,” Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, said in the statement. “As world leaders meet in Egypt … to discuss the future of biodiversity after 2020, it is these positive stories they should learn from in order to set tangible targets and achievable conservation goals.”

An Araripe manakin (Antilophia bokermanni), a bird found only in a single location in Brazil. Image © Ciro Albano.

Brazil, with its high concentration of AZE sites, now requires that conservation plans take this information into account, and the map of sites by the Brazilan Alliance for Zero Extinction is now an official government document, according to the American Bird Conservancy. Ugo Eichler Vercillo, director of Brazil’s Department of Species Conservation and Management, said using this new map could help meet international targets to protect threatened species and set aside more area for conservation.

“[Protecting] AZE sites would be the fastest way to achieve both at the same time,” Eichler Vercillo said, “and should be a global conservation priority.”

Brazil has also been “encouraging other mega-biodiverse countries to prioritise AZE conservation, via a motion that is currently under discussion at [U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity Conference of the Parties] 14 in Egypt,” Burfield told Mongabay.

A Jamaican iguana (Cyclura collei). Image © Joey Markx.
Correction: An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity Conference as “CDB.”

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