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The Alaotra Grebe

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The latest assessment of the extinction threat facing the world’s birds states shows the total number of bird species facing global extinction now stands at 1240 species (around an eighth of the world’s 10027 bird species). This is a rise of 21 from last year’s assessment.

The publication of the 2010 IUCN Red List update for birds, by BirdLife International, has also confirmed the extinction of the Alaotra grebe, a type of small waterbird previously confined to a tiny area of Madagascar. The grebe’s demise brings the total number of bird species thought to have become extinct since 1600 to 132. This species declined rapidly after carnivorous fish were introduced to the lakes where it lived. This, along with the use of nylon gill-nets by fishermen - which caught and drowned birds - has driven this species into the abyss.

Dr Tim Stowe is the RSPB’s International Director. Commenting on the current extinction crisis facing the world’s birds, he said: “The confirmation of the extinction of yet another bird species is further evidence that we are not doing enough in the fight to protect the world’s wildlife. Although there are some key successes, overall the trend is downward, bringing more species year on year to the brink of extinction and beyond.”In total 25 species of bird have joined the list of those facing global extinction, while only three have dropped from the list because of an improvement in their status or a reduction in the threat they face. Just under half of the species were added to the list because they are newly-recognised species, such as two buntings from the UK Overseas Territory of Tristan da Cunha and a species of seabird recently described from the Azores. However, 13 species have joined the list because of a genuine deterioration in their conservation status.

Among the good news in today’s report is the improvement in the status of the Azores bullfinch – a finch found only on the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores. The RSPB has worked alongside its BirdLife International partner in Portugal, SPEA, and others to turn around the fortunes of this species, which has been threatened by the encroachment of non-native plants into its native habitat. As a result of removing the threat, the threat status of the Azores bullfinch has been lowered from Critically Endangered to Endangered.

Dr Tim Stowe added: “This is a remarkable example of conservation action succeeding in turning the tide for a highly threatened species. Where there is commitment and financing we can save species. We have the knowledge and will, but there needs to be better funding globally to address the loss of species.”Other key changes to the 2010 IUCN Red List for birds facing global extinction include:

*Corsican nuthatch and the recently-recognised Monteiro’s storm-petrel –which is confined to the Azores - are added to the list of those birds facing extinction in Europe. Twenty-seven species of European bird are now recognised as facing global extinction.
*Laysan albatross is removed from the list following an improved understanding about the bird’s population. The Chatham albatross from New Zealand has also been downlisted from Critically Endangered to Vulnerable for the same reason.
*The recent recognition of Inaccessible bunting and Nightingale bunting from the two islands sharing their names in the UK overseas territory of Tristan da Cunha brings the total number of bird species facing extinction within the UK Overseas Territories to 33.
*The addition of the great knot and far eastern curlew (two species of migratory wading bird reliant on wetland habitats along the eastern seaboard of Asia) is a sign that the wetlands and the wildlife of this region are increasingly in trouble. The destruction of intertidal mudflats at Saemangeum, in South Korea, correlated to a reduction of one fifth of the world population of great knot, following the loss of one of the bird’s most important migratory stop-over sites.

Dr Stuart Butchart is BirdLife International's Global Research and Indicators Coordinator. He said: “The scale of the losses highlighted in today’s report show the sheer scale of the work that needs to be achieved by the global community. But the modest successes point to the way forward.

2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity; world leaders have failed to stem the decline of wildlife. We cannot fail again.”

4th July 2014