Great ape species facing extinction

Four out of six of our closest living ancestors listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

5th September 2016
Great ape species facing extinction (© Piper Mackay/Getty Images)

Eastern gorillas have seen a dramatic decrease in population © Piper Mackay/Getty Images

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, a comprehensive report that gathers an inventory of the planet’s flora and fauna has been released - and it’s grim reading for the great ape, with four out of six species only one step away from extinction.

The Eastern Gorilla has seen the most dramatic decline with 70 per cent of the population being wiped out in only 20 years, leaving fewer than an estimated 5,000 left in the wild. Grauer's Gorilla, a subspecies of Eastern Gorilla, fares the worst in the study, with illegal hunting being the most significant threat to the population.

The four species that have moved from endangered to critically endangered are the Eastern Gorilla, Western Gorilla, Bornean Orangutan and Sumatran Orangutan, whilst the two remaining great ape species, the Chimpanzee and Bonobo, remain endangered, a worrying sign for Inger Andersen, IUCN Director General.

"To see the Eastern gorilla - one of our closest cousins - slide towards extinction is truly distressing. We live in a time of tremendous change and each IUCN Red List update makes us realize just how quickly the global extinction crisis is escalating.

Poaching and hunting repeatedly comes up on the list as a chief cause for the decline in populations across the IUCN Red List, with species such as the Plains zebra, Bay Duiker, White-bellied Duiker and Yellow-backed Duiker (all African antelopes), and the deer-like Muntjac from the Annamite mountains of south-east Asia all having moved to a higher level of threat in the latest report.

"Illegal hunting and habitat loss are still major threats driving many mammal species towards extinction," says Carlo Rondinini, Coordinator of the mammal assessment at Sapienza University of Rome. "We have now reassessed nearly half of all mammals. While there are some successes to celebrate, this new data must act as a beacon to guide the conservation of those species which continue to be under threat."

Perkier outlook for the Panda

There are some more positive stories on the list though, most significantly in Asia where protection for the Tibetan Antelope has seen population nearly double, and the number of Giant Pandas boom and move from endangered to vulnerable thanks to conservation efforts by the Chinese government. We still need to keep a close eye on this second success though, as climate change is expected to destroy more than 35 per cent of the Panda's bamboo habitat over the next 80 years, yet again threatening their natural food source.

From the 82,954 species identified in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, there are a total of 23,928, nearly one third of the sample, threatened species. Although is not an exhaustive list of all the species on Earth, it does provide an important snapshot of how rapidly flora and fauna populations are changing and the effect that humans are having on the plants and animals we share a planet with.

 


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