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Over 90% of lemurs face extinction: IUCN

LONDON — More than 90 per cent of lemurs are facing extinction, according to the latest global assessment of the world’s most threatened species.

Over 90% of lemurs face extinction: IUCN

This Madagascan lemur could face extinction. Photo: Reuters

LONDON — More than 90 per cent of lemurs are facing extinction, according to the latest global assessment of the world’s most threatened species.

The update to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) “red list”, which contains more than 73,000 species around the world, also warned that temperate slipper orchids and the Japanese eel have joined the list of the 22,103 species now classed by experts as critically endangered, endangered or vulnerable to extinction.

With 90 species of lemur now classed as being at risk of extinction at 91 per cent, the primates are one of the most threatened groups of animals on Earth. Of the 99 known species — which live only on the island of Madagascar off the coast of east Africa — 22 are critically endangered, including the largest living lemur, the large-bodied Indri (Indri indri). Almost half (48 species) are endangered, including the world’s smallest primate, Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur (Microcebus berthae). Twenty lemurs were listed as vulnerable to extinction.

Lemurs are threatened by the destruction of their tropical forest habitat in Madagascar, where political instability and rising levels of poverty in the past 20 years have accelerated illegal logging. As much as 90 per cent of the original natural vegetation on the island has been destroyed and what remains is severely fragmented. Lemurs — members of the primate family — are also being hunted for food.

Dr Thomas Lacher, of Texas A&M University, said: “The high level of threat among lemurs is particularly troubling and calls for significant conservation action. These distinctive primates serve a critical role in the threatened ecosystems of Madagascar. They also represent an important source of tourism revenue for the country, and as a result are a clear case where conservation can provide local economic benefits.”

The red list also flagged up the threat to slipper orchids, finding that 79 per cent of the popular ornamental plants found in North America, Europe and temperate parts of Asia are threatened with extinction.

The plants, which have slipper-shaped flowers that trap insects to ensure pollination, have suffered from habitat loss and over-collection of the wild species for trade, even though international trade is regulated.

“What was most surprising about this assessment was the degree of threat to these orchids,” said Dr Hassan Rankou of the IUCN’s orchid specialist group, which is based at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. “Slipper orchids are popular in the multimillion-dollar horticultural industry. Although the industry is sustained by cultivated stock, conservation of wild species is vital for its future.”

Other species of concern are the Japanese eel (Anguilla japonica), a traditional delicacy and the country’s most expensive food fish, which has been listed as endangered due to loss of habitat, overfishing, barriers to migration, pollution and changes to oceanic currents. The freckled cypripedium (Cypripedium lentiginosum) plant, which has fewer than 100 individuals left in south-eastern Yunnan in China and the Ha Giang province of Vietnam, was also listed as endangered due to over-collection and deforestation.

The banana orchid (Myrmecophila thomsoniana), the national flower of the Cayman Islands, had been assessed for the first time and listed as endangered due to loss of habitat for housing and tourism developments.

A reassessment of the Brazilian three-banded armadillo (Tolypeutes tricinctus) — the mascot for this year’s football World Cup — found it remained vulnerable to extinction and has declined by more than one-third in the past 10-15 years due to loss of half its shrubland habitat.

But there was good news for Israel’s Yarkon bream (Acanthobrama telavivensis), a fish species whose status went from extinct in the wild to vulnerable as a result of a captive breeding programme and release of 9,000 fish into restored habitat in the country’s rivers.

Some 73,686 species were assessed by conservationists for the red list, which is marking its 50th anniversary this year. The latest update listed 4,554 species as critically endangered, 6,807 species as endangered and 10,742 species as vulnerable to extinction. THE GUARDIAN

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