What decides the chances of survival of a species? Unfortunately, in most cases, it is man and the utility of a particular species to man that seems to be the deciding factor.
As many as 8,000 scientists and conservationists from the IUCN Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC), who came together to identify the hundred most threatened animals, plants and fungi on the planet, fear that these species will probably die out because none of them provide humans with obvious benefits. On top of the list issued by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and IUCN are the Tarzan’s Chamaeleon, Spoon-billed Sandpiper and Pygmy and the Three-toed Sloth.
ZSL’s Director of Conservation Professor Jonathan Baillie says that this attitude has made conservation very difficult. ‘’We have an important moral and ethical decision to make: Do these species have a right to survive or do we have a right to drive them to extinction?” he asks in a press release.
The 100 species, from 48 different countries, are first in line to disappear completely if nothing is done to protect them. Apart from the three-toed sloth, the saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) is one of the most threatened mammals in Southeast Asia. Known as the Asian unicorn because of its rarity, the population of this antelope may be down to few tens of individuals today.
The report, called Priceless or Worthless?, was presented at the IUCN World Conservation Congress held at South Korea this week. The publication hopes to push the conservation of ‘worthless’ creatures up the agenda that is set by NGOs from around the globe.
This meet of the IUCN in Korea also decided to bring out an IUCN Red List of Ecosystems, just as it brings out the list of threatened flora and fauna. From Australia to Patagonia, from coral reefs to rainforests and deserts, the new IUCN Red List of Ecosystems will assess the status of ecosystems worldwide, to identify their risks and the potential impact on both ecosystems and human well-being.
Modelled on the influential IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the Red List of Ecosystems will identify if an ecosystem is vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered, based on an agreed and internationally accepted set of criteria for risk assessment.
Once this is in place, land utilisation could be made much more effective and Greens may not have to cry so hoarse about the conservation of paddylands in the State. But, would the leading economic planners of India be forced to think twice before making sweeping statements about filling up wetlands? We will have to wait and watch.
“We envision that it could become a one-stop shop for economists, rural communities, local and national authorities, who can use the assessments of the Red List of Ecosystems to better manage the finite resources of our planet,” says Edmund Barrow, Head of the IUCN Ecosystem Management Programme in a media release.
In addition to providing a global standard for assessing the status of ecosystems, the outputs of the Ecosystem Red List could also be used to inform on the current and future threats to the services that such ecosystems provide, such as clean water, climate regulation and natural products.
According to IUCN, the Red List of Ecosystems will also influence the policy process of international conventions, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and guide investments for several Millennium Development Goals, such as poverty reduction and improvements in health - both dependent on healthy natural environments that provide important goods and services for human well-being.