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New study pinpoints Earth’s imminent extinctions


13 Dec 2005, Washington, DC – Safeguarding hundreds of sites around the world would help stave off an imminent global extinction crisis, according to new research.

Conducted by scientists working with the 52 member organizations of the Alliance for Zero Extinction, which includes WWF, the study identifies 794 species in 595 sites around the world that are threatened with imminent extinction, each of which is in need of urgent conservation action.

“These are the last refuges of severely threatened species, those that live on just one farm, one mountaintop, or one stream,” said Taylor Ricketts, director of science at WWF-US and a lead author of the study.

“This is new and very important information. We hear lots of general talk about an extinction crisis and a fair question is: Which species are next? Where are they? We now have a vivid answer to that question: 794 faces on a map of 595 sites.”

The study also found that just one-third of the sites are known to have legal protection, and most are surrounded by human population densities that are approximately three times the global average. Conserving these sites should be an urgent global priority involving everyone from national governments to local communities, the study’s authors state.

The United States ranks among the ten countries with the most sites. These include Torrey Pines in California, a cave in West Virginia, a pond in Mississippi, and six sites in Hawaii. The whooping crane and the recently rediscovered ivory-billed woodpecker are two spectacular American species that qualify for inclusion. Particular concentrations of sites are also found in the Andes of South America, in Brazil’s Atlantic Forests, throughout the Caribbean, and in Madagascar.

“Although saving sites and species is vitally important in itself, this is about much more,” said Mike Parr, Secretary of AZE.

"At stake are the future genetic diversity of Earth’s ecosystems, the global ecotourism economy worth billions of dollars per year, and the incalculable benefit of clean water from hundreds of key watersheds. This is a one-shot deal for the human race. We have a moral obligation to act. The science is in, and we are almost out of time.”

Among the 794 imperiled mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and conifers are monkey-faced bats, cloud rats, golden moles, poison frogs, exotic parrots and hummingbirds, a hamster and a dormouse, a penguin, crocodiles, iguanas, monkeys, and a rhinoceros. Among the most intriguingly-named are: the Bloody Bay poison frog, the volcano rabbit, the Ruo River screeching frog, the Bramble Cay mosaic-tailed rat, the marvelous spatuletail (a hummingbird), and the Sulu bleeding-heart (a dove).

While extinction is a natural process, the authors note that current human-caused rates of species loss are 100–1,000 times greater than natural rates. In recent history, most species extinctions have occurred on isolated islands following the introduction of invasive predators such as cats and rats. This study shows that the extinction crisis has now expanded to become a full-blown assault on Earth’s major land masses, with the majority of at-risk sites and species now found on continental mountains and in lowland areas.

“These places present the most clear opportunities to stem the extinction episode we are in now,” added Ricketts. "We now know where the emergencies are. The good news is we still have time to protect them.”


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