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Are we saving endangered species?

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The Northern White Rhino is one species that is still at risk of extinction, while the Southern White Rhino has made an amazing comeback. (Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/ File)

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released the latest update to its list of species in danger. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is a report card for the health of biodiversity, identifying those species and ecosystems in need of conservation and recommending policy and legislation to bolster conservation efforts. IUCN and its partners reviewed more than 61,900 species as part of their mission to improve the quantity and quality of information available on the current state of Earth's biodiversity.

Some of the news is dire. The Western Black Rhino has officially been declared extinct. Other subspecies of rhino, like the Northern White Rhino and the Javan Rhino, are among the 25 percent of mammals at risk of extinction. Five of the eight species of tuna are in the Threatened or Near Threatened categories. Amphibians are one of the most vulnerable groups, and 26 recently discovered amphibian species were added to the Red List. 

Habitat loss, poaching, and over-collection and exploitation for human use are all contributing to the global decline in biodiversity.  But the report also contains kernels of good news. The Southern White Rhino has made an amazing comeback, from a population of less than 100 at the end of the 19th century to over 20,000 in the wild today. Success for the Przewalski's Horse means an upgrade from Critically Endangered to merely Endangered. It was listed as extinct in the wild just 15 years ago, but captive breeding and reintroduction programs have resulted in a population now estimated at over 300 horses.

Species that may otherwise have been overlooked garner more attention after appearing on the Red List. IUCN assessed the reptiles of Madagascar and found that 40percent of them are threatened. This new information is contributing to the designation of new conservation areas where threatened skinks, chameleons and geckos make their home.

For the IUCN Press Release, and to see a video showcasing some of the species at risk, visit: http://www.iucn.org/?8577/Another-leap-towards-the-Barometer-of-Life