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AT LEAST 28 EXTINCTIONS HAVE BEEN PREVENTED BY CONSERVATION ACTION IN RECENT DECADES

Lizanne Roxburgh, Senior Scientist, EWT Conservation Science Unit, lizanner@ewt.org.za

Reference: Bolam, F.C, Mair, L., Angelico, M., Brooks, T.M, Burgman, M., McGowan, P. J. K & Hermes, C. et al. 2020. How many bird and mammal extinctions has recent conservation action prevented? Conservation Letters, e12762. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12762

A study led by Newcastle University, UK and BirdLife International has found that conservation action has prevented the global extinction of at least 28 bird and mammal species since 1993. The species include Puerto Rican Amazon (Amazona vittate), Przewalski’s Horse (Equus ferus), Alagoas Antwren (Myrmotherula snowi), Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus) and Black Stilt (Himantopus novaezelandiae), among others.

The international team of scientists, including the EWT and other co-authors from South Africa, has estimated the number of bird and mammal species that would have disappeared forever without the efforts of conservationists in recent decades. The researchers found that 21–32 bird and 7-16 mammal species extinctions have been prevented since 1993, with the ranges reflecting the uncertainty inherent in estimating what might have happened under hypothetical circumstances.

The research team compiled information from 137 experts on the population sizes, trends, threats, and actions implemented for the most threatened birds and mammals, to estimate the likelihood that each species would have gone extinct without action. Their findings show that without conservation actions, extinction rates would have been around 3–4 times greater. Sadly, within the same period, 15 bird and mammal species went extinct (or are strongly suspected to have gone extinct).

The study has highlighted the most frequent actions taken to prevent extinctions in these bird and mammal species. Twenty-one bird species benefited from invasive species control, 20 from conservation in zoos and collections, and 19 from site protection. Fourteen mammal species benefited from legislation changes and nine from species reintroductions and conservation in zoos and collections.

The findings are highly relevant to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which came into force in 1993. Over its lifetime, at least 28–48 bird and mammal species extinctions have been prevented. Through the Convention, governments adopted the ‘Aichi Biodiversity Targets’ in 2010, which committed countries to tackle the loss of nature. It is widely expected that the CBD’s next official report will show that most targets have not been met.

However, the results of our study show that despite the overall failure to meet the targets for conserving nature set through the UN a decade ago, we have achieved significant success in preventing extinctions. This success should encourage governments to reaffirm their commitment to stop extinctions and recover populations of threatened species in the coming decade. Such a commitment is both achievable and essential to sustain a healthy planet. In many ways, this is a call to action: it shows what we can achieve if we act now to support conservation and prevent extinction.