The first assessment of all European mammals, commissioned by the European Commission and carried out by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), shows that nearly one in every six mammal species is now threatened with extinction. The population trends are equally alarming: a quarter (27%) of all mammals has declining populations and a further 33% had an unknown population trend. Only 8% were identified as increasing, including the European bison, thanks to successful conservation measures.
Europe is now home to the world’s most threatened cat species, the Iberian Lynx, and the world’s most threatened seal, the Mediterranean Monk Seal, both classified as Critically Endangered.
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “The results of the report highlight the challenge we currently face to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010, as European governments have promised. It is clear that the full implementation of the Habitats Directive, which covers nearly all mammals found threatened in this assessment, is of utmost importance to protect Europe's species".
World Conservation Union (IUCN) Director-General Julia Marton-Lefèvre said: “This new assessment proves that many European mammals are declining at an alarming rate. However, we still have the power to reverse that trend, as the case of the European bison which was brought back from extinction clearly shows.”
Europe contains a rich diversity of mammals ranging from the small and rarely seen nocturnal shrews and voles to the elusive brown bear. But the results of the European Mammal Assessment are clear: while some 15%, or almost one sixth, of mammals are threatened in Europe, the situation of marine mammals is even bleaker: some 22% are classified as threatened with extinction. The true number is likely to be even higher, as almost 44% were classified as Data Deficient due to missing information. By comparison, 13% of European birds are threatened.
The main threats to European mammals are habitat degradation and loss such as deforestation or wetland drainage, followed by pollution and over-harvesting. For marine species, pollution and accidental mortality from fisheries by-catch or ship collisions are the main risks. These threats are most severe in the enclosed seas of the Baltic, Mediterranean and Black Sea.
Within the European Union, six species have been classified as Critically Endangered. The most threatened category includes the Arctic fox and the European mink, which both have very small and declining populations. Only 150 Iberian Lynx survive today and the Mediterranean monk seal population has decreased to between 350-450 individuals.
Europe is one of the best studied regions of the world, but no overall view of the conservation status of mammals across the continent had been compiled. To fill that gap, the European Union commissioned the World Conservation Union (IUCN) to assess all mammals of continental Europe against the IUCN Red List criteria in order to identify Europe’s most threatened mammals and help set conservation priorities.
The assessment shows that Europe’s mountains and the Balkan Peninsula are home to the greatest diversity of species. This wealth of biodiversity forms an arc which extends from the Pyrenees through the Alps towards the Carpathians and Rhodopes in southeastern Europe. The greatest concentration of threatened species was found in Bulgaria.
The European bison and Alpine Ibex – back from the brink
The European bison was brought to the brink of extinction during the early 20th century when the last individuals were saved in zoos. As a result of reintroductions and introductions, there are now some 1,800 individuals occurring in free-ranging and semi-free herds in Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Russian Federation, Ukraine, and Slovakia.
The Alpine Ibex, another European endemic, was brought close to extinction in the 19th century by intensive hunting and was found only in the Gran Paradiso National Park in Italy. This species is now classified as least concern due to extensive conservation efforts and re-introductions.
To reverse the decline of Europe’s mammals, the study recommends urgent implementation of the EU’s nature conservation policies, to develop species action plans and integrate nature conservation into the EU’s land use policies.
“Today is World Biodiversity Day – a unique chance to celebrate the diversity of life on Earth and to remember humans’ fragile place within this complex web. As we celebrate this day we have to remember that our actions have brought many species to the brink of extinction, however we must also know that we have the power and opportunity to reverse this situation,” said Julia Marton-Lefèvre.
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