BirdLife International has announced, in the 2010 IUCN Red List update for birds, the extinction of Alaotra Grebe Tachybaptus rufolavatus. Restricted to a tiny area of east Madagascar, this species declined rapidly after carnivorous fish were introduced to the lakes in which it lived. This, along with the use of nylon gill-nets by fisherman which caught and drowned birds, has driven this species into the abyss.
"No hope now remains for this species. It is another example of how human actions can have unforeseen consequences," said Dr Leon Bennun, BirdLife International's Director of Science, Policy and Information. "Invasive alien species have caused extinctions around the globe and remain one of the major threats to birds and other biodiversity."
Another wetland species suffering from the impacts of introduced aliens is Zapata Rail Cyanolimnas cerverai from Cuba. It has been uplisted to Critically Endangered and is under threat from introduced mongooses and exotic catfish. An extremely secretive marsh-dwelling species, the only nest ever found of this species was described by James Bond, a Caribbean ornithologist and the source for Ian Fleming's famous spy's name.
And it's not just aliens. Wetlands the world over, and the species found in them, are under increasing pressures.
In Asia and Australia, numbers of once common wader species such as Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris and Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis are dropping rapidly as a result of drainage and pollution of coastal wetlands. The destruction of inter-tidal mudflats at Saemangeum in South Korea, an important migratory stop-over site, correlated to a 20% decline in the world population of Great Knot. Huge flocks of these birds once visited northern Australia, but annual monitoring by scientists have found corresponding declines in numbers.
"Wetlands are fragile environments, easily disturbed or polluted, but essential not only for birds and other biodiversity but also for millions of people around the world as a source of water and food," said Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife's Global Research and Indicators Coordinator.
Turning the tide
However, the Red List update shows that we now know, more than ever, that conservation works. Azores Bullfinch Pyrrhula murina has been downlisted from Critically Endangered to Endangered as a result of conservation work to restore natural vegetation on its island home. SPEA (BirdLife in Portugal) and RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) have worked together with others to turn around the fortunes of this species in what is a model for other projects.
"This is a clear example of conservation action succeeding in turning the tide for a highly threatened species," said Andy Symes, BirdLife's Global Species Programme Officer. "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."
In Colombia, Yellow-eared Parrot Ognorhynchus icterotis has also been the beneficiary of conservation through work by Fundación ProAves. Protection of its nest sites and education programmes in local communities telling people about its uniqueness has lead to a steady increase in numbers, resulting in downlisting to Endangered.
"These successes show what is possible, and they point the way forward to what needs to be done by the global community," said Dr Butchart. "2010 is the International Year of biodiversity; world leaders failed to stem the decline of biodiversity. We cannot fail again."
"The monitoring of bird species is a key contribution to the monitoring of biodiversity worldwide. We must praise BirdLife International, their Partners and all ornithologists around the world for their massive effort to better understand the current extinction crisis and also their efforts to save some of the most threatened species," said Dr Jean-Christophe Vie, Deputy Head of IUCN's Species Programme.
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