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Countdown to extinction: Conservation scientists list the world’s 100 most endangered species

The three-toed pygmy sloth is one of the world’s most endangered animals. Photo courtesy United Academics Magazine.

New report outlines world’s 100 most endangered species

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Some of the world’s most endangered species, including a three-toed sloth and a rare spore-shooting fungi, may not get the protection they need simply because they aren’t seen as providing direct benefits to humans, according to leading conservation scientists who recently compiled a list of the planet’s 100 most endangered animals, plants and fungi.

“The donor community and conservation movement are leaning increasingly towards a ‘what can nature do for us’ approach, where species and wild habitats are valued and prioritised according to the services they provide for people,” said Professor Jonathan Baillie, director of conservation for the Zoological Society of London.

“This has made it increasingly difficult for conservationists to protect the most threatened species on the planet,” Baillie said. “While the utilitarian value of nature is important conservation goes beyond this. Do these species have a right to survive or do we have a right to drive them to extinction?”

The new report, called Priceless or Worthless?, will be presented at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in South Korea this week. The authors hope to push the conservation of ‘worthless’ creatures up the agenda that is set by nongovernmental conservation groups around the globe.

“All the species listed are unique and irreplaceable. If they vanish, no amount of money can bring them back,” said co-author Ellen Butcher. “However, if we take immediate action we can give them a fighting chance for survival. But this requires society to support the moral and ethical position that all species have an inherent right to exist.”

Most of the species have been driven to the brink of extinction by human activities. But in almost all cases, scientists believe their extinction can still be avoided if conservation efforts are specifically focused.

The 100 species, from 48 different countries, are first in line to disappear completely if nothing is done to protect them.

The pygmy three-toed sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus) is one of the animals facing a bleak future. The species is found only on Escudo Island, 17 kilometers off the coast of Panama. At half the size of their mainland cousins, and weighing roughly the same as a newborn baby, pygmy sloths are the smallest and slowest sloths in the world and remain critically endangered.

Similarly, the saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) is one of the most threatened mammals in Southeast Asia. Known as the Asian unicorn because of its rarity, the population of these antelope may be down to just a few score.

In the UK, a small area in Wales is the only place in the world where the brightly coloured willow blister (Cryptomyces maximus) is found. Populations of the spore-shooting fungi are currently in decline, and a single catastrophic event could cause their total destruction.

“If we believe these species are priceless it is time for the conservation community, government and industry to step up to the plate and show future generations that we value all life,” Baillie said.

Monetizing nature remains a worthwhile necessity for conservationists, but the wider value of species on the brink of extinction should not be disregarded, the authors wrote in their report.

“All species have a value to nature and thus in turn to humans,” said Dr. Simon Stuart, chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission. “Although the value of some species may not appear obvious at first, all species in fact contribute in their way to the healthy functioning of the planet.”

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