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Species conservation: some success, many failures

06 May 2019, MVT 14:44
Underwater photograph taken at Baa Atoll, Maldives - a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve that rakes in money for the Maldives. These corals are severely under threat, in Baa Atoll, Maldives and across the globe. PHOTO: AMILLAFUSHI
06 May 2019, MVT 14:44

With a million species threatened with extinction due to mankind's destruction of the planet, according to a landmark UN report released on Monday, there have been scant conservation successes in recent years.

Some creatures once teetering on the edge of recovery, such as giant pandas and bluefin tuna, have fared fairly well, while efforts to save others, including sharks and cedars, have largely fallen short.

Here are some successes and failures in conservation efforts.

Giant Panda

The giant panda, native to China, has been on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) "Red List" of endangered species for years. Determined to protect its national treasure, the Chinese government began replanting the bamboo the bears feed on exclusively and organised funding for zoos to host pandas.

The panda has become something of a totem for species preservation, instantly recognised the world over. It however remains classified as "vulnerable" with less than 2,000 thought to remain in the wild., however,

Bearded Vulture

The bearded vulture, which can attain a three-metre wingspan, had almost disappeared in Europe by the start of the 20th century. But 30 years ago it became part of a reintegration programme in the mountains of France. Its population in France currently sits at around 60 couples.

Blue-fin Tuna

Bluefin tuna, a mainstay delicacy of Japanese cuisine, was decimated by decades of overfishing in the Mediterranean and Atlantic before being added to a UN-protected species list.

New quotas and protection measures have allowed stocks to largely recover, though there are fears for the long-term viability of other heavily fished tunas, including the big eye.

Sehuencas Water Frog

Until recently this frog, indigenous to Bolivia, was thought to be on the way to extinction with just a single known specimen, a male named Romeo.

But an expedition last year discovered a living female specimen, who was named -- you guessed it -- Juliet. It is hoped that the pair will mate and save one of the world's most imperilled species.

Cedar Trees

The mighty cedar trees of Lebanon are mentioned in the Bible and have clung to the mountains along the eastern Mediterranean for centuries.

But as climate change makes water cycles less dependable and brings more pests such as insects, the "Cedars of God" are under threat like never before.

In 2012 Lebanon's agriculture ministry launched a programme to plant 40 million cedars by 2030. The tree is still classified as "vulnerable" by the IUCN.

All Coral Species

Coral reefs cover less than 0.2 percent of the ocean bed but support around 30 percent of all known marine life. They are under threat from warming seas, which kill the coral and prevent reefs regenerating, as well as pollution, invasive species and tourism.

The UN's intergovernmental panel on climate change in a landmark report last October warned that just 1.5 Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) of global warming could see 70-90 percent of Earth's coral reefs vanish.

Various Sharks

Sharks have stalked the oceans for more than 400 million years but they are now under threat from an even more devastating predator -- humans.

Of the 59 species of rays and sharks evaluated so far by the IUCN, 17 are classified at risk of extinction as overfishing and habitat destruction continues apace.

Galapagos Tortoise

When Lonesome George, a 90-year-old giant tortoise in the Galapagos Islands, died in 2012, so did his species.

The islands' giant tortoise population was ravaged by pirates and poachers in the 18th century and the creatures -- which lived to over 100 and took decades to reach maturity -- could not reproduce quick enough to save themselves

A million species risk extinction, will humans be one?

Halting the degradation of Nature upon which humans depend for fresh water, clean air and arable land will require a sweeping overhaul of the way our species produces and consumes almost everything, especially food, states the UN report.

"We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide," said Robert Watson, chief of the UN science panel for biodiversity. "By 'transformative change', we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganisation."

For the first time, the UN body has ranked the top five causes of species lost and the degradation of Nature.

By a long shot, the first two are diminished or degraded habitat, and hunting for food or trade -- often illicit -- in body parts.

All but seven percent of major marine fish stocks, for example, are in decline or exploited to the limit of sustainability despite efforts by regional management organisations to fish sustainably.

Global warming is third on the list, but is likely to move up.

Numbers four and five are pollution -- 400 million tonnes of heavy metals, toxic sludge and other waste are dumped into oceans and rivers each year -- and alien species, such as rats, mosquitoes, snakes and plants that hitch rides on ships or planes.

"There are also two big indirect drivers of biodiversity loss and climate change -- the number of people in the world and their growing ability to consume," said Watson. The text, while not setting benchmarks for progress or making explicit policy recommendations, does point unmistakably to actions needed: reduce meat consumption, halt deforestation in tropical countries, discourage luxury consumption, slash perverse subsidies, embrace the concept of a low-growth economy.

The report will "serve as a basis for redefining our objectives" ahead of a key meeting of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity in China in October 2020, said co-author Yunne Jai Shin, a scientist at the Research Institute for Development in Marseilles.

Paris, France | AFP

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