Twice a year, the IUCN Red List is updated to include species that have been assessed for the first time or re-assessments of species that need updating. In the first update of 2014, we call attention to the Brazilian mascot of the FIFA World Cup, seductive Slipper Orchids, an expensive and Endangered Japanese delicacy, and the Lemurs of Madagascar.
As the FIFA World Cup starts today, the world’s attention will be drawn to Brazil over the next month. About 5500 species have been assessed in Brazil, including the Vulnerable Three-banded Armadillo – The official mascot of the tournament. “One of the key objectives through the 2014 FIFA World Cup is to use the event as a platform to communicate the importance of the environment and ecology” said FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke. Indeed the mascot’s name Fuleco is a fusion of the words football and ecology. However, the extent to which the use of the Three-banded Armadillo as a mascot for the World Cup translates into species conservation for it and the other nine species of Armadillo in Brazil remains to be seen.
IUCN has completed a global assessment of temperate Slipper Orchids occurring in North America, Europe, and temperate Asia. These assessments conclude that 79% of these popular ornamental plants are threatened with extinction. International trade of slipper orchids is highly regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), but habitat destruction and over-collection of wild species present serious challenges to these species. Temperate slipper orchids are among the best-known and most widely collected of all flowering plants, with characteristic slipper-shaped flowers which trap insects to ensure pollination.
The Japanese Eel (Anguilla japonica) – a traditional delicacy in Japan and the country’s most expensive food fish – has been listed as Endangered due to loss of habitat, overfishing, barriers to migration, pollution and changes to oceanic currents. These eels are catadromous, meaning they spend their adult lives in freshwater habitats but migrate to saltwater environments to reproduce, often over exceptionally large areas. Their life history and threats over these large areas and throughout their life history make the application of Red List criteria for the Japanese eel and other eel species incredibly complicated.
“While the status of this species is of great concern, the assessment of the Japanese Eel and other eels is a hugely positive step,” says Dr Matthew Gollock, Chair of the IUCN Anguillid Specialist Sub-Group. “This information will allow us to prioritize conservation efforts for eel species and the freshwater ecosystem more broadly.”
This IUCN Red List update also confirms that 94% of lemurs are threatened with extinction. Of the 101 surviving lemur species, 22 are Critically Endangered, including the largest of the living lemurs, the Large-bodied Indri (Indri indri), 48 are Endangered, such as the world’s smallest primate, Madame Berthe’s Mouse Lemur (Microcebus berthae). A total of 20 are Vulnerable. This makes them one of the most threatened groups of vertebrates on earth.
“Despite profound threats to lemurs, which have been exacerbated by the political crisis in Madagascar, we believe there is still hope,” says Dr Christoph Schwitzer, Vice-Chair for Madagascar of the IUCN SSC Primate Specialist Group and Director of Conservation at the Bristol Zoological Society. “Past successes demonstrate that collaboration between local communities, non-governmental organizations and researchers can protect imperiled primate species. We urgently invite all actors to join our efforts to ensure the continued existence of lemurs and the biological, cultural and economic richness they represent.”
The IUCN Red List, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, now includes 73,686 assessed species, of which 22,103 (30%) are threatened with extinction. The IUCN Red List is not just a register of names and associated threat categories, it is a rich compendium of information on the threats to species, their ecological requirements, habitats and ranges, and information on conservation actions that can be used to reduce or prevent extinctions. By 2020, it is IUCN’s goal that the Red List will contain 160,000 species, making it a more comprehensive barometer for the status of the species that share this planet.