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Extinction or conservation

31 species declared extinct in update of IUCN Red List – but European bison now recovering
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
European Bison

Main image: © Rafał Kowalczyk

Following this week’s update of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™, 31 species have moved into the Extinct category, and all of the world’s freshwater dolphin species are now threatened with extinction.

There are now 128,918 species on the IUCN Red List, of which 35,765 are threatened with extinction.

The European bison (Bison bonasus), Europe’s largest land mammal, has moved from Vulnerable to Near Threatened thanks to continued conservation efforts.

‘The European bison and 25 other species recoveries documented in today’s IUCN Red List update demonstrate the power of conservation. Yet the growing list of Extinct species is a stark reminder that conservation efforts must urgently expand. To tackle global threats such as unsustainable fisheries, land clearing for agriculture, and invasive species, conservation needs to happen around the world and be incorporated into all sectors of the economy.’

IUCN director general

European bison recovery

As a result of long-term conservation management, the wild population of European bison (Bison bonasus) has grown from around 1,800 in 2003 to over 6,200 in 2019, justifying the move from Vulnerable to Near Threatened.

The species survived only in captivity in the early 20th century, and was reintroduced to the wild in the 1950s. The largest subpopulations are now found in Poland, Belarus and Russia.

‘The conservation successes in today’s Red List update provide living proof that the world can set, and meet, ambitious biodiversity targets. They further highlight the need for real, measurable commitments as we formulate and implement the post-2020 global biodiversity framework.’

Global director of IUCN’s Biodiversity Conservation Group

There are currently 47 free-ranging European bison herds. However, herds are largely isolated from one another and confined to non-optimal forest habitats, and only eight of them are large enough to be genetically viable in the long term.

The species remains dependent on ongoing conservation measures such as translocations of bison to more optimal open habitats and reduction of human-bison conflicts.

‘Historically, European bison were reintroduced mostly to forest habitats, where they don’t find enough food in winter. However, when they move out of the forest into agricultural areas, they often find themselves in conflict with people. To reduce the conflict risk and the bison’s dependence on supplementary feeding, it will be important to create protected areas that include open meadows for them to graze.’

Co-author of the new assessment and member of the IUCN SSC Bison Specialist Group

All freshwater dolphins threatened

The tucuxi (Sotalia fluviatilis) – a small grey dolphin species found in the Amazon river system – has moved from Data Deficient to Endangered. This means all of the world’s freshwater dolphin species are now listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List.

This dolphin species has been severely depleted by incidental mortality in fishing gear, damming of rivers and pollution.

Eliminating the use of gillnets – curtains of fishing net that hang in the water – and reducing the number of dams in tucuxi habitat are priorities to enable numbers to recover. Enforcing the ban on the deliberate killing of tucuxis is also essential.


The lost shark (Carcharhinus obsoletus), which was only formally described last year, enters the Red List as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct).

The species was last recorded in 1934. Its habitat in the South China Sea has been extensively fished for more than a century and remains one of the most overexploited marine regions in the world.

As it is unlikely that the species could have persisted under this heavy pressure, the lost shark may already be extinct.

All of the 17 freshwater fish species endemic to Lake Lanao and its outlet in the Philippines are now Extinct (15 species) or Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct) (two species).

The extinctions were caused by predatory introduced species, compounded by overharvesting and destructive fishing methods.

Three Central American frog species have been newly declared Extinct. Additionally, 22 frog species across Central and South America were listed as Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct).

The main driver of these drastic declines is chytridiomycosis disease. Conservation efforts to protect critical habitat are helping populations of several other amphibian species to recover.

Among them is the Oaxaca Treefrog (Sarcohyla celata), which moved from Critically Endangered to Near Threatened thanks to actions by local communities in Mexico.

Plants under pressure

The protea family has been comprehensively assessed with this update, revealing that 45% (637 of 1,464 species) of these striking flowering plants that grow mainly across the Southern Hemisphere are Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered.

Many of the species have highly restricted ranges, making them more vulnerable to the spread of invasive alien species, changes to natural fire cycles caused by humans and linked with climate change, and loss of habitat to agriculture.

The protea family includes three Macadamia species – the same species that produce the farmed macadamia nut crop – which have entered the IUCN Red List as threatened with extinction in the wild.

The macadamia nut (Macadamia integrifolia) is listed as Vulnerable, while M. ternifolia and M. tetraphylla are listed as Endangered.

Oak trees have been comprehensively assessed, revealing that almost a third (31%, 113 of 430 species) are threatened with extinction. Nine Asian oaks enter the IUCN Red List already Critically Endangered (Possibly Extinct or Possibly Extinct in the Wild).

The highest numbers of threatened species are in China and Mexico, followed by Vietnam, the United States and Malaysia. Land clearance for agriculture and logging are the most common threats in China, Mexico and Southeast Asia. Invasive alien species and diseases and climate change are the key threats to oaks in the United States.

The IUCN Red List

Global figures for the 2020-3 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species:

Total species assessed: 128,918
Total threatened species: 35,765
Extinct: 902
Extinct in the Wild: 80
Critically Endangered: 7,762
Endangered: 13,285
Vulnerable: 14,718
Near Threatened: 7,644
Least Concern: 66,469
Data Deficient: 17,878

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