For the first time ever, more than 8,000 scientists from the IUCN Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC) have come together to identify 100 of the most threatened animals, plants and fungi on the planet. But conservationists fear they'll be allowed to die out because none of these species provide humans with obvious benefits.
Professor Jonathan Baillie, ZSL's Director of Conservation explains: "The donor community and conservation movement are leaning increasingly towards a 'what can nature do for us' approach, where species and wild habitats are valued and prioritised according to the services they provide for people. This has made it increasingly difficult for conservationists to protect the most threatened species on the planet.
While the utilitarian value of nature is important conservation goes beyond this. Do these species have a right to survive or do we have a right to drive them to extinction?"
The report, called Priceless or Worthless?, will be presented at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in South Korea this week, and hopes to push the conservation of 'worthless' creatures up the agenda that is set by NGOs from around the globe.
Co-author of the report, ZSL's Ellen Butcher says: "All the species listed are unique and irreplaceable. If they vanish, no amount of money can bring them back. However, if we take immediate action we can give them a fighting chance for survival. But this requires society to support the moral and ethical position that all species have an inherent right to exist."
Their declines have mainly been caused by humans, but in almost all cases scientists believe their extinction can still be avoided if conservation efforts are specifically focused. Conservation actions deliver results with many species such as Przewalski's Horse (Equus ferus) and Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) have being saved from extinction.
The 100 species, from 48 different countries are first in line to disappear completely if nothing is done to protect them.
The pygmy three-toed sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus) is one of the animals facing a bleak future. Escudo Island, 17km off the coast of Panama, is the only place in the world where these tiny sloths are found. At half the size of their mainland cousins, and weighing roughly the same as a newborn baby, pygmy sloths are the smallest and slowest sloths in the world and remain Critically Endangered.
Similarly, the saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) is one of the most threatened mammals in Southeast Asia. Known as the Asian unicorn because of its rarity, the population of these antelope may be down to few tens of individuals today.
In the UK, a small area in Wales is the only place in the world where the brightly coloured willow blister (Cryptomyces maximus) is found. Populations of the spore-shooting fungi are currently in decline, and a single catastrophic event could cause their total destruction.
Professor Baillie adds: "If we believe these species are priceless it is time for the conservation community, government and industry to step up to the plate and show future generations that we value all life.''
Whilst monetising nature remains a worthwhile necessity for conservationists, the wider value of species on the brink of extinction should not be disregarded, the report states.
"All species have a value to nature and thus in turn to humans," says Dr Simon Stuart, Chair IUCN Species Survival Commission. "Although the value of some species may not appear obvious at first, all species in fact contribute in their way to the healthy functioning of the planet."
ZSL and IUCN will be presenting 'Priceless or Worthless?' at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Jeju, South Korea on 11th September 2012.
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Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity: the key role is the conservation of animals and their habitats. The Society runs ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, carries out scientific research in the Institute of Zoology and is actively involved in field conservation in over 50 countries worldwide. For further information please visit www.zsl.org
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ (or The IUCN Red List) is the world's most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of plant and animal species. It is based on an objective system for assessing the risk of extinction of a species.
Species are assigned to one of eight categories of threat based on whether they meet criteria linked to population trend, population size and structure and geographic range. Species listed as Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable are collectively described as 'Threatened'.
The IUCN Red List is not just a register of names and associated threat categories. It is a rich compendium of information on the threats to the species, their ecological requirements, where they live, and information on conservation actions that can be used to reduce or prevent extinctions.
The IUCN Red List is a joint effort between IUCN and its Species Survival Commission, working with its Red List partners BirdLife International; Botanic Gardens Conservation International; Conservation International; NatureServe; Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew; Sapienza University of Rome; Texas A&M University; Wildscreen; and Zoological Society of London. www.iucnredlist.org
Save Our Species (SOS)
SOS is a global partnership initiated by leading conservation organizations aimed at mobilizing new sources of funding for threatened species, their habitats and the people depending on them. By joining SOS, governments, foundations, companies, wealthy individuals can join forces and ensure that species featured in this book prosper again.
SOS (Save Our Species) is a global initiative whose objective is to conserve threatened species and their habitats, following priorities identified by the world leading experts in wildlife conservation. Founded by IUCN, the World Bank and the GEF (Global Environment Facility), SOS offers unmatched species expertise and makes grants to the conservation community. The initiative represents an engaging platform for the private sector, offering tangible on-the-ground results from a diverse portfolio of projects. Nokia is the first business partner and SOS is currently looking for more companies across industries to join the initiative and assist in explaining the urgency to protect the diversity of life on earth, on which many depend. www.SOSpecies.org