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Rescue Package Launched To Halt Bird Extinction

Amman, Jordan & Cambridge, UK, Saturday 7 October, 2000, 11.30 hrs BST -- The state of the world’s threatened bird species is worse than ever, with the extinction rate on course for a dramatic rise 500 times above the natural rate over the next 100 years, according to a major new assessment. "Threatened Birds of the World", compiled by BirdLife International, is to be launched by Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan at the World Conservation Union (IUCN) World Congress in Amman today [1, 2].

However, the global extinction crisis facing birds could be reversed by implementing a landmark rescue package that combines practical solutions and policy commitments, the new book says.

"We need to act urgently and on a scale greater than anything previously achieved", said BirdLife International Director and Chief Executive, Dr Michael Rands. "Threatened Birds of the World sets out the specific practical actions and solutions required to save these species from extinction".

"If we act now to address the urgent needs identified within these pages, we can make the world a better place for birds, for ourselves and for our children", said HM Queen Noor, Honorary President of BirdLife International [3].

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’ – 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 birds 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 Southeast Asia, due to severe deforestation in countries such as the Philippines, where the Philippine Eagle has been hard hit [7], and Indonesia. Rainforest species are most at risk from unsustainable logging and forest clearance for agriculture and exotic timber plantations.

The White-rumped Vulture and Long-billed Vulture have also suffered extremely rapid declines in India as a result of disease, compounded by poisoning, pesticide use and meat processing practices, resulting in a revised Critically Endangered listing for both, having previously been Least Concern and Near-Threatened in 1994.

As these examples demonstrate, birds can tell us about the state of the environment and the sustainability of human activities. For example, documented declines in Wandering Albatross and rainforest species such as the Philippine Eagle tell us that current longlining and rainforest clearance practices are not sustainable.

Of the recovering species that have been downlisted since 1994 the Rarotonga Monarch and Black-faced Spoonbill, both of which were Critical, are now listed as Endangered thanks to a combination of predator control and community conservation work in Rarotonga, and habitat protection, legislation and a regional Action Plan in China, Taiwan, North Korea, South Korea and Japan [8].

The book identifies the world’s extinction "hotspots" as Brazil, Indonesia, West Africa, Madagascar, China, the Philippines and New Zealand. Brazil and Indonesia have the most threatened species (114 each); New Zealand and the Philippines have the highest percentage of threatened species, 42% and 35% respectively.

Threatened Bird of the World also highlights the most important habitats and main threats to the most threatened species; habitat loss and degradation are the most pervasive threats, affecting 89% of all threatened birds.

For the first time the assessment also sets out potential solutions to the crisis, identifies the practical actions required to save species from extinction, and sets specific conservation targets to be met by 2005, including aiming to reduce the total number of threatened bird species by 10%. Measures identified in the assessment include the need for more surveys and recovery plans, better funding, more effective laws, the management of natural resources for sustainability and more Important Bird Areas (IBAs).

According to James et al [9], ten to one hundred times the current annual global conservation budget is required to halt the global extinction crisis. This would pay for a realistic global system of protected areas, sustainability in major land uses such as forestry and agriculture, and population surveys of little known species. This is about one thousandth of the annual value that the natural environment returns to human society in goods and services, which is thought to be US$33 trillion [10]. Such a sum could be met by redirecting a small part of the subsidies that currently support environmental damage around the world.

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, and has been compiled by BirdLife International. Previous editions were published in 1988 and 1994 under the title "Birds to Watch".

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. Additional quotes on the extinction crisis facing birds described in Threatened Birds of the World:

"This threat to the diversity and richness of life has been brought about by the wholesale changes that we have made to the face of the earth. Such losses need not continue." Sir Richard Attenborough, writer and broadcaster, UK.

"All the indications are that we are standing at the opening phase of a mass-extinction event comparable in scale to the previous five, the most recent of which eliminated the dinosaurs 65 million years ago." Dr Russ Mittermeier, President, Conservation International, USA.

4. A selection of Critical, Endangered and Vulnerable species entries with accompanying images that can be downloaded for media use will be posted on the day of the launch at the BirdLife International website at www.birdlife.net

5. For other 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 which nest on four widely separated sub-Antarctic island groups, and disperse throughout the Southern Ocean. The species is endangered by longline fisheries with significant numbers being drowned after striking at baited hooks. Information from the two best-documented breeding sites indicate that, like other albatross species, the Wandering Albatross is undergoing a long-term decline. BirdLife International started a global campaign this year called "Save the Albatross: Keeping the World's Seabirds off the Hook". Its mission is to reduce the indiscriminate slaughter of seabirds in longline fisheries by promoting the use of effective mitigation measures in all such fisheries. Photographs of this species for media use will be posted on the day of the launch on the BirdLife International website.

7. Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi), Critically Endangered: The Philippine Eagle has a small and rapidly declining population. It faces numerous threats, including loss of old-growth forest habitat, and it is estimated that there may be as few as 350-650 birds remaining from an original population of about 6,000. Forest destruction and fragmentation through logging and conversion for agriculture are the main threats. Suitable forest habitat is thought to now total less than 10,000 km2 within the eagle’s range and reportedly continues to be lost at a rate of 1,000-2,700 km2 (10-27 %) each year. Hunting for food poses an additional threat, and there is evidence that it accumulates pesticides which reduce its already slow reproductive rate. Various conservation initiatives have been launched and include passing legislation prohibiting persecution of the birds, protecting nests, survey work, public awareness campaigns, and captive breeding. A successful pilot project designed to alleviate pressure on eagle territories whilst increasing local economic prosperity has begun. The future of the species will only be secured by the full implementation of a forest conservation programme which will also benefit a further 27 threatened forest bird species that occur in the same areas. A colour illustration of this species for media use will be posted on the day of the launch at the BirdLife International website.

8. A selection of species with recovering populations accompanied by images that can be downloaded for media use will be posted on the day of the launch on the BirdLife International website at www.birdlife.net

9. James, A., et al (1999) "Balancing the Earth’s accounts". Nature 401; 323-324.

10. Costanza, R., et al (1997) "The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital". Nature 387: 253-260.

For further information and video resources please contact Michael Szabo at BirdLife International in Cambridge on on + 44 (0) 1223 277 318 or 07779 018332, and Adrian Long in Amman on + 962 7 7862467.

OR Barry Weeber, Forest and Bird Protection Society, Wellington (04)385-7375 or 025-622-7369


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