Gorillas, corals, dolphins on threatened species list

Ebola and hunting have decimated the world's population of the most common type of gorilla to critically endangered levels, according to the 2007 Red List of Threatened Species.

Ebola and hunting have decimated the world's population of the most common type of gorilla to "critically endangered" levels, according to the 2007 Red List of Threatened Species.

Released on Wednesday by the Swiss-based World Conservation Union (IUCN), the list includes 41,415 species considered in danger

Of those, 16,306 species are threatened with extinction, 188 more than last year, IUCN said.
Sekani, a 16-year-old Western Lowland gorilla, holds her newborn at the Little Rock Zoo in Little Rock, Ark. in November 2006. ((Mike Wintroath/Associated Press))

One in four mammals are in jeopardy, as are one in eight birds, a third of all amphibians and 70 per cent of the plants that have been studied, said the organization.

The reportcalls the situation of theWestern gorilla, a species whose population has declined by more than 60 per cent in the past quarter-century, "grim."

The Western Gorilla's main subspecies, the Western Lowland gorilla, has been decimated by the commercial bush-meat trade and the Ebola virus, said the report.

The Sumatran orangutan remains in the critically endangered category, while the Bornean orangutan is endangered. Those two species are threatened by loss of habitat from commecial logging, said the report.

"We could fit all the remaining great apes in the world into two or three large football stadiums. There just aren't very many left," said Russ Mittermeier, head of IUCN's Primate Specialist Group.

Coral on list

Coral made its first appearance on the IUCN Red List this year, with10 Galapagos species considered critically endangered. The report blames the effects of El Nino and climate change.

"Habitat destruction, particularly in the world's tropical places, is a major issue," said Stuart Pimm, a conservation ecologist with Duke University.

"One of the things that's new on the list is a lot of species of corals… the reality is, even coral reef ecosystems in places as well protected as the Galapagos Islands, they too are now in trouble."
A Chinese white dolphin jumps out of the water off of Hong Kong, in this 2000 file photo. ((Vincent Yu/Associated Press))

The organization said the Yangtze River dolphin is now "possibly extinct," with no documented sightings of it since 2002, while India and Nepal's crocodile, the gharial, has moved from endangered to critically endangered.

Among birds in danger, Asia's red-headed vulture and the Egyptian vulture were reclassified in a higher risk category, largely due to a painkiller fed to farm cattle. The substance, diclofenac, poisons the vultures when they scavenge livestock carcasses.

In North America, 738 species of reptiles are on the Red List. Those species include90 threatened with extinction.

Knowledge best weapon: scientist

Pimm said few areas on the planet, including remote jungles and the High Arctic, are immune from the effects of global change.

Red List threat categories (in descending order of threat)

- Extinct or Extinct in the Wild.

- Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable: species threatened with global extinction.

- Near Threatened: species close to the threatened thresholds or that would be threatened without ongoing specific conservation measures.

- Least Concern: species evaluated with a low risk of extinction.

- Data Deficient: no evaluation because of insufficient data.

*Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct) is a special flag meaning the species is likely endangered, but requires formal confirmation.

"It is grim and what makes it worse is that there are a lot of new kinds of species appearing on the list," said Pimm. "Global change is the new kid on the block and a dangerous one."

Knowing about threats early is the best way to ensure a species can survive, said Pimm.

"People have to realize, the news is bad and it may be getting worse, but we can begin to focus our actions now on saving these species and saving the places where they live."

Pimm said there have been past success stories, with species such as the grey whale and peregrine falcon, recovering from the brink of extinction.

"I don't want people to think it's all bad news. Becoming better informed is the first step in being able to get some reversals in these species."

With files from the Associated Press