Hundreds of animal species are in danger, scientists say

Extinction a growing threat despite conservation efforts

April 08, 2004|By Julie Cart | Julie Cart,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Despite international efforts to promote biodiversity, a new study has found that hundreds of the world's animal species are in imminent danger of extinction, primarily in tropical mountains and islands in developing nations.

The report, published yesterday in the journal Nature, concludes that although more than 10 percent of the Earth's land mass is afforded environmental protections, efforts are not being focused in places that have the greatest concentration of imperiled species.

The "global gap analysis" conducted by scientists for Conservation International studied mammals, amphibians, birds, turtles and tortoises - which together represent just 1 percent of the planet's species. But that was enough for the scientists to conclude that urgent action is necessary to prevent hundreds of species from going extinct.

"This is the tip of the iceberg," said Ana Rodrigues, a research fellow at the Center for Applied Biodiversity Science at the Washington-based Conservation International. "There is a window of opportunity here. ... These findings confirm what we already know: The worldwide protection network is far from finished, and we need to expand it into regions that need it most."

The report found that at least 300 critically endangered animals exist in unprotected areas - as well as 237 endangered and 267 vulnerable species. A critically endangered species is defined by the World Conservation Union as having a 50 percent probability of becoming extinct in 10 years.

The multiyear study relied on an analysis of computer databases and field studies at universities and government institutions around the world. The work is the beginning of a worldwide inventory of rare plants and animals that exist outside protected areas.

Rodrigues pointed to Mexico as an example of a country with "megadiversity," with hundreds of species that are not found anywhere else. But she said more than half of Mexico's threatened amphibians are not protected, according to the study, along with about 30 percent of the country's threatened mammals.

Rodrigues also identified sites in the Andes, on islands in Southeast Asia, on Madagascar and in southern India as areas of high biodiversity and low protection.

"It needs to be taken care of globally," she said. "We need to help with capacity-building, help financially. These regions are well-known to international conservation organizations for their importance. But this is the easy part. The action itself is another issue."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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