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Archive for Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Polar bears, hippos placed on risk list

May 2, 2006

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— Polar bears and hippos are among more than 16,000 species of animals and plants threatened with global extinction, the World Conservation Union said today.

According to the Swiss-based conservation group, known by its acronym IUCN, the number of species classified as being in serious danger of extinction rose from about 15,500 in its previous "Red List" report, published in 2004.

The list includes one in three amphibians, a quarter of the world's mammals and coniferous trees and one in eight birds, according to a preview of the 2006 Red List. The full report will be published later this week.

"Biodiversity loss is increasing, not slowing down," said Achim Steiner, the conservation group's director general. "The implications of this trend for the productivity and resilience of ecosystems and the lives and livelihoods of billions of people who depend on them are far-reaching."

The Red List classifies about 40,000 species according to their risk of extinction and provides a searchable online database of the results at www.iucnredlist.org. The total number of species on the planet is unknown, with 15 million being the most widely accepted estimate. As many as 1.8 million are known today.

People are the main reason for most species' decline, mainly through habitat destruction, according to IUCN.

Polar bears are threatened by global warming and melting ice caps because they are conditioned for the icy environment and depend on Arctic ice floes for hunting seals. They are predicted to suffer a 30 percent population decline in the next 45 years.

The hippopotamus population in war-ravaged Congo, meanwhile, has plummeted by 95 percent, mainly because of unregulated hunting for meat and ivory teeth.

Freshwater fish have suffered some of the most dramatic population declines because of human activities that damage their habitat, like forest clearance, pollution and water extraction.

The conservation union warned that the decline in wetlands and freshwater ecosystems also will damage supplies for humans of food, clean drinking water and sanitation.

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