The International Union for Conservation of Nature [IUCN]’s Red List is famous among wildlife watchers for providing up-to-date and comprehensive data on the fauna and flora currently most under threat. Renewed yearly, the list now runs to a whopping 19,000 species ranging from the cute (Mountain Pygmy Possum) to the positively hideous (Burnup’s Hunter Slug) and from the fearsome (Porbeagle) to the totally harmless (Alaotran Gentle Lemur). Whatever they look like and however likely they are to bite you or not, all have one thing in common: their survival is under threat.
Raising awareness of the creatures on the list has hit a significant snag however. Most people, no matter how concerned, are never going to peruse a long and detailed Excel sheet unless there’s something in it for them. The result is the IUCN's new tome, Species on the Edge of Survival, which introduces 365 creatures from the Red List accompanied by gorgeous, glossy photos and bite-sized chunks of information. Some of the animals featured are familiar – the black rhino and the cheetah for example – while others such as the Pink Fairy Armadillo and Cherry Throated Tanager are practically unheard of. The Tanager, for the record, is a pretty black, red and white bird clinging precariously to life in the Atlantic Forest of Brazil. And with less than 50 individuals left, precarious is an understatement of the highest order.
Preventing creatures such as the Tanager from following the likes of the Mammoth, European cave bear and giant blesbok into the history books is precisely why the arrival of Species on the Edge of Survival is so important. As it stands, there still a small amount of time left to halt the eradication of much of the planet’s wildlife but a colossal amount remains to be done; while in some sectors, achievements are being undone thanks to poaching, climate change, habitat destruction and alien species. The much-discussed black rhino is a case in point. With numbers bottoming out at 2,400 in 1995, the population has since increased to 4,200 with 98 per cent residing in protected areas. But thanks to China, Vietnam and Malaysia’s appetite for powdered rhino horn, poaching is once again on the rise, and according to the WWF’s Drew McVey, this time it’s no longer about desperately poor people attempting to eke out a living. This time, he says, it’s organised gangs toting machine guns, silencers and night vision specs who are leading poaching operations. It’s really serious. Two of the South African beasts were found dead and hornless in the past few weeks – a significant blow to a population numbering no more than 250.
Its role in highlighting the plight of the rhino and other, less iconic creatures, is what makes Species such an important addition to the wealth of material available to wildlife lovers, conservationists and the concerned citizen alike. For animal fans, it shows the species soon to be lost. For conservationists, it provides a list of targets for funds and manpower, while for the concerned; it highlights the causes that need to be acted upon. It’s hard, admittedly, to get worked up about the survival of a foul-looking character such as the field cricket or white-humped vulture, while the Burnup’s Hunter Slug looks like a prime candidate for being stamped on, should it get close enough. Nonetheless, their survival is essential – both for the eco-systems they inhabit and for the very future of this planet. Like the charming Northern Muriqui, the adorable Silky Anteater and the beautiful Irrawady Dolphin; that they live on, protected and safe, is of crucial importance. Species on the Edge of Survival for all its glossy images and coffee table looks has a higher purpose to serve: to give an insight into this planet’s wonderful biodiversity and to show just how much poorer we could be if the 19,000 Red Listed species tumble over the edge and into extinction.
Species on the Edge of Survival (£14.99, Collins) is available from Amazon
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