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26,000 More Species Threatened – OpEd

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As the world threatening nears an increase of 1-1.5 degrees C global warming by year 2030, the number of the earth’s lifeforms threatened with extinction has increased, the world’s global watchdog of flora and fauna International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) said in its September 2018 report.

IUCN bared in its latest Red List that an additional 26,000 species are threatened with extinction today, out of the 27% of all assessed species worldwide.

Of the number, 41 percent are amphibians, 5 percent mammals, 34 percent conifers, 13 percent birds, 31 percent sharks and manta rays, 33 percent corals, and 27 percent selected crustaceans.

The IUCN Red List is the most comprehensive, objective global approach for evaluating the extinction risk of plant and animal species that started in the 1950s as a card index of species that were considered to be threatened with extinction. Over time, the Red Data Books grew and transformed into the Red List to include more species. The ethos of the program also shifted to incorporate the status of all species, not limiting it to only those threatened with extinction.

Today, The IUCN Red List, regarded as the most influential source of information for species conservation in the world, holds conservation information for over 93,500 species of plants, animal and fungi, with a mission to increase the list to 160,000 species by 2020.

Biodiversity Hotspots Around the World

There are thirty five biodiversity hotspots in the world where these threatened life species are located all over the world. These areas compose 2.3 percent of the Earth’s surface but have more than half of the world’s endemic plant species.

These are in the California Floristic province, Madrean Pine Oak Woodlands, Mesoamerica of North and Central America; Caribbean Islands; Atlantic Forest, Cerrado, Chilean Winter Rainfall Valdivian Forest, Tumbes Choco Magdalena, and Tropical Andes in South America; Mediterranean Basin in Europe; Cape Floristc Region, Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa, Eastern Afromontane, Guinean Forests of West Africa, Horn of Africa, Madagascar and Indian Ocean Islands, Maputuland Pondoland Albany, Succulent Karoo in Africa; Mountains of Central Asia; Eastern Himalaya Nepal India, Indo-Burma India and Myanmar, Western Ghats and Sri Lanka in South Asia; East Melanesian Islands, Philippines, New Zealand, New Caledonia, Polynesia-Micronesia, Eastern Australian Temperate Forests, Southwest Australia, Sundaland and Nicobar Islands of India, Wallacea all in South East Asia and Asia Pacific; Japan, Mountains of Southwest China in East Asia; Caucasus and Irano-Anatolian in East Asia.

These are considered hotspots because they are biogeographic regions with significant reservoir of biodiversity but threatened with destruction. The purpose of biodiversity hotspots is not simply to identify regions that are of high biodiversity value, but to prioritize conservation spending.

Culprits Behind Ugly Face of Extinction

The worst threat endangering biodiversity in the said global hotspots is internal– citizen-initiated, aggressive, relentless, unethical to a point, God-less –destruction of habitat. As if the future does not matter.

Man has begun to overuse or misuse most of these natural ecosystems. Due to this ‘unsustainable’ resource-use, once productive forests and grasslands have been turned into deserts and wasteland have increased all over the world. Mangroves have been cleared for fuelwood and prawn farming, which has led to a decrease in the habitat essential for breeding of marine fish.

Wetlands have been drained to increase agricultural land. These changes have grave economic implications in the longer term. The current destruction of the remaining large areas of wilderness habitats, especially in the super diverse tropical forests and coral reefs, is the most important threat worldwide to biodiversity. Scientists have estimated that human activities are likely to eliminate approximately 10 million species by the year 2050.

There are about 1.8 million species of plants and animals, both large and microscopic, known to science in the world at present. The number of species however is likely to be greater by a factor of at least 10. Plants and insects as well as other forms of life not known to science are continually being identified in the worlds’ ‘hotspots’ of diversity. Unfortunately at the present rate of extinction about 25% of the worlds’ species will undergo extinction fairly rapidly. This may occur at the rate of 10 to 20 thousand species per year, a thousand to ten thousand times faster than the expected natural rate! Human actions could well exterminate 25% of the world’s species within the next twenty or thirty years.

Much of this mega extinction spasm is related to human population growth, industrialization and changes in land-use patterns. A major part of these extinctions will occur in ‘biorich’ areas such as tropical forests, wetlands, and coral reefs. The loss of wild habitats due to rapid human population growth and short term economic development are major contributors to the rapid global destruction of biodiversity.

Philippines, 18th Most Endangered Biodiversity Hotspot

The Philippines, the world’s second largest archipelago, is one of the few nations that is, in its entirety, both a hotspot and a megadiversity country, placing it among the top priority hotspots for global conservation.

But its unique biodiversity is threatened. Having the highest rates of discovery in the world with sixteen new species of mammals discovered in the last ten years, such endemism however may be lost faster than discovered.

Endangered are 9,250 vascular plant species which includes gingers, begonias, gesneriads, orchids, pandans, palms, and dipterocarps. Some150 species of palms are included in the hotspot list and 70 percent of the 1,000 species of orchids found in the country.

Among its over 530 bird species, 35 percent or over 60 are threatened. These are found in seven Endemic Bird Area hotspots: Mindoro, Luzon, Negros and Panay, Cebu, Mindanao and the Eastern Visayas, the Sulu archipelago, and Palawan.

The best-known endangered bird species is the Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi, CR), the second-largest eagle in the world. The Philippine eagle breeds only in primary lowland rain forest. Habitat destruction has extirpated the eagle everywhere except on the islands of Luzon, Mindanao and Samar, where the only large tracts of lowland rain forest remain. Today, the total population is estimated at less than 700 individuals. Captive breeding programs have been largely unsuccessful; habitat protection is the eagle’s only hope for survival.

The other threatened endemic species are the Negros bleeding art (Gallicolumba keayi, CR), Visayan wrinkled hornbill (Aceros waldeni, CR), Scarlet-collared flowerpecker (Dicaeum retrocinctum, VU), Cebu flowerpecker (Dicaeum quadricolor, CR), and Philippine cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia, CR).

With regards mammals, the tamaraw (Bubalus mindorensis, CR), a dwarf water buffalo that lives only on Mindoro Island is the most endangered. A century ago the population numbered 10,000 individuals; today only a few hundred animals exist in the wild.

Other mammals endangere are the Visayan and Philippine warty pigs (Sus cebifrons, CR and S. philippensis, VU); the Calamianes hog-deer (Axis calamaniensis, EN) and the Visayan spotted deer (Rusa alfredi, EN), which has been reduced to a population of a few hundred on the islands of Negros, Masbate and Panay; and the golden-capped fruit bat (Acerodon jubatus, EN), which, as the world’s largest bat, has a wingspan up to 1.7 meters.

In the reptilian world, the freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis, CR) is considered the most threatened crocodilian in the world. Other unique and threatened reptiles include Gray’s monitor (Varanus olivaceus, VU) and the Philippine pond turtle (Heosemys leytensis, CR) and a newly discovered monitor lizard, Varanus mabitang, only the second monitor species known in the world to specialize on a fruit diet.

Among all amphibians, 22 are considered threatened including the Philippine flat-headed frog (Barbourula busuangensis, VU), one of the world’s most primitive frog species.

With regards freshwater fishes, most endangered is Sardinella tawilis, a freshwater sardine found only in Taal Lake. Sadly, Lake Lanao, in Mindanao, seems likely to have become the site of one of the hotspots worst extinction catastrophes, with nearly all of the lakes endemic fish species now almost certainly extinct.

Man’s Destruction of Forests All but Decimated RP’s Biodiversity

Forests, the Philippines’ leading natural habitat of the country’s biodiversity, are rapidly disappearing. By 2050, there may be no virgin forests, many forestry experts predict. Non-believers scoff at this, saying it is an exaggeration. But the figures cannot be wrong. The effects of deforestation are not figments of imagination.

The rate of deforestation in the country is among the highest in the world. forests. The worst deforestation happened during the period of 1990 to 1999 where 750,000 acres of virgin forest were lost. Today, only 1.75 million acres remain of the nation’s virgin forests.

The loss is incredible, the rate of deforestation in that decade was almost 75,000 acres a year. It also came at a time when logging ban was imposed in some selected sites in the country.

As a result, flooding, soil erosion and degradation pegged at 100,000 tons of soil yearly, loss of species diversity and genetic material, loss of human lives and properties and aesthetic and recreational loss were at their worst.

Much of the blame I on governments that over the years have passed laws favorable to logging concessions and implemented forest protection poorly.

Unchecked illegal logging remains the main culprit, government negligence has prompted the devastation of forest. Today, much of the remaining forests are still being invaded by commercial loggers.

Philippine forestry laws passed since 1930 have failed to provide adequate security provisions for virgin and secondary growth forests, thus the forests had virtually no protection at all. For instance, there is only one forest guard for every 7,500 acres.

But even then, many official policies and strategies from the very start were faulty. And many polices continue to be faulty. Much of the blame is on the government that over the years have passed laws favorable to logging concessions and implemented forest protection poorly.

*Michael A. Bengwayan has a Masters Degree and Ph.D. in Development Studies and Environmental Resource Management from University College Dublin, Ireland as a European Union Fellow. He writes for the British Gemini News Service, New York’s Earth Times and the Environmental News Service. He is currently a Fellow of Echoing Green Foundation, New York


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