New “Red List” Identifies Okapi Forest Giraffe Among Endangered Species, While Leatherback Turtle Is Saved From Extinction

By Ajit Jha on November 29, 2013 1:08 PM EST

Okapi Giraffe
The Okapi, or forest giraffe, is one of the unfortunate losers on this year's Red List. (Photo: Shutterstock)

The scientists who study the world's endangered species have reasons to cheer. Leatherback sea turtles, hitherto considered an endangered species, are showing signs of population gains, especially in the Atlantic Ocean. However, before they can celebrate the news, they must reckon with the fact of the diminishing rare mammal, the Okapi. Popularly known as the forest giraffe, this Central African mammal is in serious trouble.

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These are among some of the findings of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Switzerland-based organization that releases regular updates to the Red List, a guide on the world's rarest species. The second update to the list this year was unveiled on Nov. 25 this year, which marks the 49th anniversary of the Red List. IUCN counts among its members about a thousand government and nonprofit groups, in addition to 11,000 volunteer scientists and 1,000 professional staffers in 160 nations.

Of the 71,576 species that IUCN assessed, 21,286 species are threatened with extinction. About 799 species are already extinct, 61 are declared extinct in the wild, and 4,286 are listed as critically endangered. According to Craig Hilton Taylor, a conservation biologist who manages IUCN's Red List, the list aims to highlight which species are seeing a rapid decline and to recommend any needed courses of action.

Other than the decline of Okapi (forest giraffe), and recovery of Leatherback sea turtles, there is a real concern over white-winged flufftails, a very secretive dove-sized bird being pushed to the brinks of extinction. Only about 700 estimated flufftails are still alive today in Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Ethiopia. According to the Red List, flufftails are declining because of a decline in functional habitat.  

However, on the positive front, the California Channel Island fox (dwarf fox) has rebounded from severe decline down to about 1500 individuals two decades ago to about 5,500 foxes today. The main threat they encountered were invasive species including golden eagles and rats which were effectively countered by the National Park Service.

Unlike the California dwarf fox or Leatherback sea turtles, albatrosses offer a mixed result. "Overall, albatrosses are in a very bad way, but it's good to see there are some positive signs of recovery," Taylor said.  Albatrosses, large sea birds traveling great distances soaring above the ocean on their massive wings, had been declining in the recent years. However, there are some positive signs of recovery now. There are now between 1 and 1.5 million mature black-browed albatrosses and 129,000 mature black-footed albatrosses, according to IUCN records that have placed them under the near threatened category.

The efforts made to raise the numbers of both albatrosses and turtles include restrictions on inefficient fishing practices that kill seabirds and their replacement with efficient fishing technology. In addition, scientists have removed invasive species on islands where albatrosses breed. These invasive species eat away the eggs laid by albatrosses.  

Above image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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