Endangered Species

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Amidst global chaos after World War II in 1945, collective consciousness of human race sprung to ensure a safer future for mankind through creation of a global organization- United Nations and its subsidiary agencies such as UNESCO. Sir Julian Sorell Huxley, a renowned naturalist was appointed as first Director of UNESCO in 1945. He was convinced that the prosperity and security for human race cannot be achieved without protecting Earth’s natural resources and all the denizens of our home planet. He was instrumental in establishing International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 1948. Since its formative years, IUCN has been carrying out extensive Environment education, advocacy and research program across the globe and since 1964 it has been publishing IUCN Red List. IUCN Red list evaluates various species and on the basis of set criteria, confers a status upon the species which corroborates with the probability of the species getting extinct. This system of identifying vulnerable species has been modified over the time to accurately gauge the existing threat to the survival of the species and help the concerned bodies to take preventive measures. Often, the policy makers use Red List to draft conservation action plans and to delineate protected areas.

Currently IUCN lists species in following scale of nine ranks:

1. Extinct (no surviving member of the species in World) - Ex: Thylacine or Tasmanian Tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus).This species was drove to extinction as thylacine were seen as livestock predator and hence persecuted by Humans

2. Extinct in the wild (few surviving individuals in captivity; Zoos but none in wild) – Ex: The black softshell turtle or Bostami turtle (Nilssonia nigricans). This species was originally found in lower Brahmaputra River but is now found only in a pond of an Islamic Shrine at Chittagong, Bangladesh

3. Critically endangered (Few surviving individuals in Wild) – Ex: Pink-headed Duck (Rhodonessa caryophyllacea). This rare species of duck was originally found in India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. It has not been sighted since 1949 but it is expected that small population might be surviving in remove wetlands of Myanmar which have not been surveyed yet

4. Endangered (Small population(s) with few individuals in wild) - Ex: Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris). Tigers are top predators of Indian forests and were widespread across India, but today less than 3000 individuals survive in wild. Poaching and habitat loss is the main reason for decline in Tiger Population. Government of India initiated Project Tiger in 1972 and made strict laws against poaching of Tigers. Also, efforts were made to increase suitable Tiger habitat and hence, Tiger population is on increase in India.

5. Vulnerable (Species with high risk of endangerment in the wild) – Ex: Yellow-throated Bulbul (Pycnonotus xantholaemus). This bird is endemic to scrub forests of Eastern Ghats and inland hillocks of Peninsular India. The species has fragmented population and its habitat is under constant decline due to quarrying

6. Near threatened (Species is likely to become endangered in the near future due to mounting threat) – Ex: Oriental Darter (Anhinga melanogaster). This water bird is found across South-east Asian countries including India. The bird feed predominantly on fishes and due to continuous decline of freshwater lakes and contamination of water bodies, this species is classified as near threatened. Further decline and degradation of water bodies will pose a threat to the survival of this species

7. Least concern (Widespread and abundant species with no threat of extinction in wild) – Ex: Crimson marsh glider (Trithemis aurora). It is one of the most common dragonflies found all across India and several other Asian Countries. This species is very widespread and abundant in terrestrial as well as freshwater habitats.

8. Data deficient (Very little or no information about the species and hence, difficult to estimate threat to its survival) – Ex: Malabar Toad (Duttaphrynus hololius). This species is endemic to Eastern Ghats of India and not much is known about the species biology. It has been reported from few places in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, but no data is available of its geographic range, life span, reproductive biology

9. Not evaluated (Species which have not been taken up by IUCN for evaluation) – Eg: Indian saw-scaled viper (Echis carinatus).  This species is restricted to drier landscapes and is highly venomous. It has not been evaluated by IUCN

IUCN releases newer versions of Red list as and when data becomes available and re-assess the threat status of species. With every new version, more species of the world are evaluated and IUCN status of already evaluated species may change. Ecologists collect data on the species which were data deficient or not-evaluated and help IUCN is assessing the threat to the species. Similarly, effective conservation practises and reduced threat of extinction may change status of species from critically endangered/endangered/ vulnerable to lower ranks of extinction threat. If the threat persists and conservation practises are not effective, then the rank of species is moved up


Article by:

Ashish Jha

Research Scholar

Laboratory for Conservation of Endangered Species (LaCONES)

Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CSIR-CCMB), Annexe I

Hyderabad 500048

Email: ashish@ccmb.res.in

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