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IUCN Red List: Lemurs, European Hamster and North Atlantic Right Whales Added to 'Critically Endangered' List

Pritam Kashyap
Pritam Kashyap

North Atlantic right whales, European hamsters and one- third of the lemurs in Madagascar are now considered critically endangered as per International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. This is because birth rates among both the North Atlantic right whales and European hamsters are dropping. Overall, more than 32,000 of the species on the red list are threatened with extinction, including 33 % of the lemurs in Madagascar and more than half the primates in the rest of Africa. 

The European (or common) hamster "is expected to go extinct within the next 30 years" unless its situation changes, according to the IUCN. Litter sizes have dropped from 20 to five or six, while the species has disappeared from parts of France, Germany and swathes of Eastern Europe. It's a dramatic change from the species' last assessment in 2016, when the European hamster was listed as of "least concern," at the lowest end of the Red List scale. 

Hilton-Taylor, of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), is referring to the "huge" gap in biodiversity data as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. "We've lost lots of valuable time in terms of monitoring," he says. 

The animals were added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species on Thursday. The update put an additional 4,260 animal, fungus and plant species on the list, bringing the total number of species assessed at more than 120,000 since the Switzerland-based IUCN published the first version in 1964. 

The Bonin pipistrelle bat, splendid poison frog, Jalpa false brook salamander and spined dwarf mantis are species now declared extinct by the IUCN, although each is classified as a "non-genuine status change," indicating the new status is due to new information, improved knowledge or incorrect data used previously.  

The world's most expensive fungus, Caterpillar Fungus (Ophiocordyceps sinensis), has entered the IUCN Red List as Vulnerable. This fungus is highly valued in Traditional Chinese Medicine, where it has been used for over 2,000 years to treat many diseases including those related to the kidneys and lungs. 

Elsewhere, fewer than 250 mature North Atlantic right whales are now left in existence. Rising sea temperatures related to climate change may have driven their krill food supply northwards, says Hilton-Taylor, repositioning the whales' summer feeding ground "right in the middle of key shipping lanes" in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, off the Canadian coast. Strikes from ships, entanglement in fishing gear and a lower reproduction rate -- potentially related to stress, or whales finding it harder to catch food, Hilton-Taylor posits -- have caused the population to drop by approximately 15% since 2011. 

BBC reports that human activities such as hunting and deforestation are most likely the causes of the primates' decline in population. Furthermore, habitat destruction has also been correlated to an increased risk of humans contracting wildlife diseases, just like the coronavirus. 

The update reveals that 33 per cent of lemur species are now classified as Critically Endangered. One hundred three out of 107 surviving species of the primates native to Madagascar are now threatened with extinction. 

Among them is the Madame Berthe's mouse lemur, the world's smallest primate at around nine centimetres long. "It's been under increasing threat because of forest loss," caused by agricultural activities and charcoal burning, says Hilton-Taylor. 

Moreover, thirteen lemur species have been pushed to higher threat classifications due to these heightened human pressures. 

The current pandemic should give people time to internalize and consider our relationship with the natural world, says Craig Hilton-Taylor, a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. 

The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) is an international organization working in the field of nature conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. It is involved in data gathering and analysis, research, field projects, advocacy, and education. IUCN's mission is to "influence, encourage and assist societies throughout the world to conserve nature and to ensure that any use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable". 

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