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Success for bison and Red Kite…but 31 species declared Extinct

An updated species list shows a successful outlook for the European bison and Red Kite, but a number of other species have officially disappeared.

The European bison and Red Kite have retreated from extinction, according to an update of the official extinction ‘RedList’.  These victories for Europe’s largest terrestrial mammal and one of its most magnificent birds of prey have resulted from repeated conservation action.

The European Bison is now a keystone species due to is crucial role within its ecosystem, with its browsing and trampling behaviours contributing to the creation of a mosaic-type landscape that is biodiversity rich and resilient to climate change.  However, it was previously driven to the edge of extinction in the early 20th century by habitat loss and hunting.  Now, it remains dependent on continuing conservation measures mitigating its threats, such as translocation and reduction of negative human-bison interactions.

The European bison was threatened by habitat loss and hunting. © Sczepan Klejbuk/Shutterstock

The Red Kite plays an important role in its environment due to its status as a scavenger species, feeding on animals that have already died.  Its decline was primarily driven by poisoning by baits usually set for foxes, crows or rats.  Its recuperation has been achieved by ongoing legal protection and large-scale reintroduction projects.

Both species have moved from Near Threatened status to Least Concern status, the lowest category of extinction risk, with the recent recoveries regarded as ‘conservation success’ stories.

The wingspan of Red Kites can reach up to 170 cm. © Binson Calfort/Shutterstock

However, 31 species of plants and animals have been declared extinct in the latest list, which is drawn up by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and assesses the survival prospects of global animal, plant and fungus species.

In this third and final 2020 update, Dr Bruno Oberle, director general of the IUCN, stated that the recovery of the European bison and Red Kite, along with 25 other species, demonstrated ‘the power of conservation’ but added that the growing list of extinct species ‘is a stark reminder that conservation efforts must urgently expand’.

The IUCN has assessed over 128,918 species, and over a quarter – 35,765 – are threatened with extinction.  The 31 recently declared extinct species include three Central American frogs, 17 freshwater fish species from the Philippines, the Lord Howe long-eared bat and 11 plant species.  While the frogs were hit by a fatal fungal disease, the fish have declined due to predation by introduced species and over-fishing. In the bird kingdom, the Andean condor, Secretary Bird, Bateleur and Martial eagle are now also at high risk from extinction.

The Andean Condor, a South American bird in the vulture family, is now at high risk from extinction. © aabeele/Shutterstock

On top of the new extinctions, the Tucuxi dolphin found in the Amazon river has been classed as endangered, meaning that all of the world’s freshwater dolphins are now threatened.  The small grey dolphin is vulnerable due to accidental capture in fishing gear, the damming of rivers and water pollution.  The IUCN say that its survival hangs on the elimination of gillnets – curtains of fishing net that hang in the water – and the reduction of dams in nearby waters.

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