European mammals face extinction
GENEVA ” Dozens of European mammals, including the Iberian lynx, the Saiga antelope and the Mediterranean monk seal, face extinction unless immediate measures are taken to protect them, a conservation group said Tuesday.
Thirty-five of the continent’s 231 mammal species fall into the threatened category, according to a report published by the World Conservation Union.
The 60-page report commissioned by the European Union warns that 27 percent of mammal species show a fall in numbers, compared with 8 percent that are increasing. The report’s nine categories include “least concern,” “vulnerable,” “endangered” and “extinct.”
The group said historical evidence shows two European land mammals ” a rabbit-like creature called the Sardinian pika and the aurochs, an ancestor to domestic cattle species ” have been driven to extinction in the last 500 years, while the gray whale has disappeared from European waters.
The five most critically endangered European mammals ” the saiga antelope, Mediterranean monk seal, North Atlantic right whale, Bavarian pine vole and Iberian lynx ” could soon follow, the report said.
There are only two small populations of Iberian lynx in Spain today, totaling about 150, and the number of Mediterranean monk seals has shrunk to between 350 and 450 in total, the group said.
A further nine mammal species are considered endangered, including the blue whale, the largest mammal on the planet. Twenty-one other species are listed as vulnerable.
“This new assessment proves that many European mammals are declining at an alarming rate,” World Conservation Union director-general Julia Marton-Lefevre said. “We still have the power to reverse that trend, as the case of the European bison which was brought back from extinction clearly shows.”
The bison, once plentiful in central and southeastern Europe and the Caucasus, was nearly wiped out in the wild by the end of the 19th century. Extensive protection and re-population efforts have allowed their numbers to grow, meaning Europe’s largest native herbivore is now considered vulnerable, but not acutely threatened.
Human impact on the environment such as deforestation, wetland drainage, pollution and over-harvesting is the main reason why the mammals are threatened, the report said.
The report, which took 140 scientists 15 months to compile, recommends that population levels of European mammals be closely monitored and the most endangered species be the subjects of special conservation programs.
The World Conservation Union is headquartered in Gland, Switzerland. Its members include 83 countries, hundreds of non-governmental organizations and thousands of scientists.