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'Red List' Sheds Light on Species Extinction Crisis

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'Red List' Sheds Light on Species Extinction Crisis


'Red List' Sheds Light on Species Extinction Crisis

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

There's a new updated list of the world's most endangered plants and animals. The scientists who released it call it the Red List. Among other things, it shows that gorillas, Asian crocodiles and coral reefs are in lots of trouble.

NPR's John Nielsen reports.

JOHN NIELSEN: The Red List is widely viewed as the world's most authoritative guide to the status of disappearing plants and animals. That's true in part because scientists from all over the planet helped the World Conservation Union keep this list up-to-date. Jane Smart leads the listing effort for the union.

Dr. JANE SMART (Plantlife International): We get quite excited about the launch of the Red List and perhaps we shouldn't because actually it's a very bad news story. But for those of us who work in the field, I think we feel that the only way we're ever going to get society to take note of what's happening out there to our species is to tell everybody.

NIELSEN: Smart helped take the wraps off the 2007 version of the Red List at a press conference in Washington, D.C. It is the longest version of this list ever, with entries for a total of 41,415 rare and threatened plants and animals. Some are described as merely vulnerable, but more than 16,000 of these species are said to be at least endangered. And one has now been officially reclassified as gone forever, according to botanist Mike Hoffman of Conservation International.

Mr. MIKE HOFFMAN (Conservation International): It's a species of begonia - a flower plant species from Penang Island in Malaysia. It has not been seen despite survey work in more than a hundred years.

NIELSEN: The newest Red List makes it clear that there are a lot of species that could soon go the way of the Malaysian woolly-stalked begonia. Leading candidates include an Indonesian cardinalfish that is coveted by aquarium owners, an Indian crocodile threatened by dam building and sand mining, and almost every species of chimpanzee, orangutan and gorilla.

Russ Mittermeier, head of Conservation International, says people don't realize how rare these apes have become.

Dr. RUSSELL MITTERMEIER (President, Conservation International): If you took the remaining species of great apes, all of the remaining individuals would fit into three or four football stadiums, and that's it.

NIELSEN: Mittermeier says great apes are being ravaged by diseases like the Ebola virus, and by hunters who sell their meat.

Dr. MITTERMEIER: If any of you doubt that bushmeat hunting is a major issue, I invite you to come to one of the markets in western or central Africa. I was just in Liberia a couple of weeks ago and went to one of these markets and they're just a very scary place - just stacks of smoked meat, primates of many different kinds and many, many other forest animals.

NIELSEN: There is some good news on the Red List. For example, many snakes and lizards in the United States are doing better than expected.

However, even the most optimistic of experts is predicting that the Red List will keep growing in the years ahead, partly because the status of a lot of marine species is now being assessed.

This year, for instance, the first three species of coral were added to the Red List, along with several different kinds of seaweed. Hundreds of other species that live in the ocean could be added next year when this list is updated again.

John Nielsen, NPR News, Washington.

MONTAGNE: You can see the elegant cardinalfish and the bright coral plus photos and video of other species on the Red List at

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