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Species recoveries a 'spark of hope' in global wildlife crisis, say experts

IUCN/Yvonnne A de Jong/PA Wire

By Emily Beament, PA Environment Correspondent

A boost to the fortunes of several threatened species, including a bird that was declared extinct in the wild, offers a "spark of hope" in the wildlife crisis, experts said.

Conservation efforts have helped eight species of bird and two freshwater fish stage a recovery, according to the latest update to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

But there are 30,178 animals and plants judged to be at risk of extinction, with 73 species seeing their situation worsen since the last assessment.

And climate change is a growing threat to wildlife, the experts warned, as habitats such as coral reefs are damaged by global warming and extreme weather hits nature as well as people.

IUCN acting director general Dr Grethel Aguilar said: "This IUCN Red List update offers a spark of hope in the midst of the biodiversity crisis.

"Though we have witnessed 73 genuine species declines, the stories behind the 10 genuine improvements prove that nature will recover if given half a chance."

She added: "Climate change is adding to the multiple threats species face, and we need to act urgently and decisively to curb the crisis."

Among those species which have seen a turnaround in their fortunes is the Guam rail, a bird which was previously listed as extinct in the wild.

The flightless, fast-running bird was once widespread on the Pacific island of Guam but saw numbers plummet after the brown tree snake was accidentally introduced at the end of the Second World War, with the last wild rail killed in 1987 by the predator.

A 35-year captive breeding programme has helped establish the Guam rail on the neighbouring Cocos Island, though it is still critically endangered.

Another captive breeding programme as part of conservation efforts on Mauritius in the Indian Ocean has helped boost numbers of the echo parakeet, whose numbers now exceed 750 birds.

It has seen its status improve in the latest update to "vulnerable", the lowest risk category for wildlife threatened with extinction, having previously improved from critically endangered to endangered in 2007.

Two freshwater species of fish have also seen a boost thanks to decades of conservation work to establish more sub-populations through reintroductions and shifting wild fish to new sites.

The Australian trout cod improved its status from endangered to vulnerable to extinction, and the pedder galaxias in Tasmania has improved from critically endangered to endangered.

But the latest update to the Red List shows how climate change is affecting species by altering their habitats or through extreme weather events.

The short-tail nurse shark, which lives in the western Indian Ocean, has declined by around four fifths over 30 years in the face of over-fishing and climate change, losing its shallow water habitat as the coral reef is hit in part by ocean warming.

Dominica's national bird, the imperial parrot, is also under threat from climate change as more frequent and intense hurricanes batter the Caribbean, killing birds and destroying their habitat as well as causing devastation for people.

The parrot went from being endangered to critically endangered after the record strong Hurricane Maria in 2017, and there are now estimated to be fewer than 50 mature individuals left in the wild.

The latest update of the Red List also reveals declining fortunes for the European rabbit which, though widespread through introductions, is now endangered in its natural range across Spain, Portugal and southern France.

And Kenya's Tana River red colobus, among the world's most threatened primates, is now listed as critically endangered because of habitat loss.

All known species of eucalypt plants have been assessed in the Red List update and it finds almost a quarter of them are threatened with extinction, including the Eucalyptus moluccana which is the sole food source for koalas.