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Cloning Not The Answer For Threatened Birds

New Book Lists 5,000 Conservation Actions, Cloning Not One of Them

Cambridge, Wednesday 11 October, 2000 - Cloning is not the answer to saving threatened bird species according to Threatened Birds of the World, a major new assessment published this week by BirdLife International, the leading authority on the status of birds, their habitats and the issues affecting them [1].

The new assessment was compiled by BirdLife International's Globally Threatened Species Programme and proves the point by identifying more than 5,000 practical conservation actions necessary to save the world's threatened birds. Cloning is not one of them.

The book, which is the basis for the IUCN (World Conservation Union) Red List for birds, also shows that the bird extinction rate is on course for a dramatic rise 500 times above the natural rate over the next 100 years.

"This new assessment proves that cloning is not the answer to saving threatened birds", said BirdLife International Director and Chief Executive, Dr Michael Rands [2]. "The answer is to implement the 5,000 practical conservation actions that BirdLife International's Globally Threatened Species Programme has identified in this new book".

"For example, last week the New Zealand Government announced an ambitious US$2 million project to eradicate introduced rats from Campbell Island, one of the actions identified in Threatened Birds of the World. Once cleared of rats, the Campbell Island teal and Campbell Island snipe will be returned to their former home on the island. It is steps such as this and greater habitat protection that are more important for saving birds than cloning", he said.

"It is unlikely that a measure as desperate as cloning would be successful in saving a bird species like the New Zealand Kakapo, especially given that there are only 62 left. For instance, cloning would not stop the degradation of its forest habitat."

"Even if a Kakapo could be successfully cloned, this would still not tackle the fundamental threats to the species, such as the introduced cats on Stewart Island which killed more than half of all monitored adults each year when they still lived on the island."

"Unless we address the root causes of bird decline, we may witness the extinction of hundreds of species because of environmental deterioration such as deforestation, habitat loss and fragmentation, and unsustainable activities such as hunting and longline fishing."

"There are tried and tested intensive conservation techniques that have been remarkably successful, for example the cross-fostering of the eggs from the last surviving female Chatham Island Black Robin, also from New Zealand, has resulted in a population today of over 250 individuals."

Other species listed in the book as having recovering populations due to intensive conservation efforts include the Rarotonga Monarch and Black-faced Spoonbill [3], both of which were listed as Critical in 1994, but have since been downlisted to Endangered thanks to a combination of predator control and community conservation in Rarotonga, and better habitat protection and legislation in China, Taiwan, North Korea, South Korea and Japan. In the USA the California Condor and Whooping Crane are also recovering. The wild California Condor population is now 50 and increasing from a low point of 28 in captivity, thanks to captive breeding and reintroduction programmes. The natural wild population of the Whooping Crane hit a low of 14, but is now back up to 183 and increasing due to reintroduction and captive breeding programmes.

The new assessment shows the number of bird species threatened with global extinction rose dramatically by 75 from 1,111 in 1994 to 1,186 in 2000 - a shocking 12% of all bird species. Of the new total, 1,175 (99%) are at risk of extinction from human activities such as logging, intensive agriculture, longline fishing, hunting and trapping.

Since BirdLife's last global survey in 1994, two forest species of honeyeaters from the Hawaiian Islands, USA - the Kauai O'o and Bishop's O'o - have been officially listed as Extinct, 14 more species are listed as Critical and 86 more as Endangered [4].

Alarmingly, the extinction rate for birds continues to rise. The current rate is 50 times greater than the prehistoric or 'natural' rate, but is predicted to rise to 500 times greater than natural over the next 100 years [5]. Of grave concern is the movement of an overall total of 100 species into the two highest threat category lists in the last six years.

Since 1994 the number of threatened albatrosses and petrels increased from 32 to 55. Sixteen species of albatross, including the majestic Wandering Albatross, are now threatened with global extinction compared to three in 1994 [6]. The threat with the highest impact on these species is the indiscriminate slaughter of seabirds by longline fishing vessels which is particularly severe in illegal fisheries in the Southern Ocean.

The number of threatened bird species in tropical rainforests, such as doves and parrots, has also increased, especially in South East Asia, due to severe deforestation in countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia. Rainforest species are most at risk from unsustainable logging and forest clearance for agriculture and exotic timber plantations.

NOTES

1. Threatened Birds of the World is the most authoritative and comprehensive assessment ever published on the status of the world's threatened bird species.

2. BirdLife International is a global alliance of conservation organisations working in more than 100 countries who, together, are the leading authority on the status of birds, their habitats and the issues and problems affecting bird life.

3. A selection of bird species with recovering populations accompanied by images that can be downloaded for media use are available from the BirdLife International website at www.birdlife.net

4. A selection of Critical, Endangered and Vulnerable bird species with accompanying images that can be downloaded for media use are available from the BirdLife International website at www.birdlife.net

5. For other non-avian species, the extinction rate is estimated to be 1,000 to 10,000 times the natural rate. See the IUCN Red List (May 1995). Also quoted in the IUCN Red List 2000.

6. Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans, Vulnerable: There are about 28,000 mature individuals left throughout the Southern Ocean. The species is endangered by longline fisheries with significant numbers being drowned after striking at baited hooks. Photographs of this species are available for media use from the BirdLife International website.

For further information please contact Richard Thomas at the BirdLife International Secretariat in Cambridge on + 44 (0) 1223 279 813 or out of hours, contact Michael Szabo on 07779 018332 (mobile).

Barry Weeber Senior Researcher Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society PO Box 631 Wellington New Zealand Phone 64-4-385-7374 Fax 64-4-385-7373 www.forest-bird.org.nz


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