AboutZoos, Since 2008


Okapi joins grow­ing num­ber of threat­ened species

pub­lished 27 Novem­ber 2013 | mod­i­fied 03 Novem­ber 2014

The Okapi — a national sym­bol of the Demo­c­ra­tic Repub­lic of the Congo, also known as the “for­est giraffe” — and the sub-​Saharan White-​winged Fluff­tail — one of Africa’s rarest birds — are now on the brink of extinc­tion, accord­ing to the lat­est update of The IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species™. Two species of alba­tross, the Leatherback Tur­tle and the Island Fox native to California’s Chan­nel Islands are show­ing signs of recovery.

A total of 71,576 species have now been assessed, of which 21,286 are threat­ened with extinction.

OkapiThe update high­lights seri­ous declines in the pop­u­la­tion of the Okapi (Okapia john­stoni), a close rel­a­tive of the giraffe, unique to the rain­forests of the Demo­c­ra­tic Repub­lic of the Congo (DRC). The species is now Endan­gered, only one step away from the high­est risk of extinc­tion, with num­bers dwin­dling across its range. Poach­ing and habi­tat loss, as well as the pres­ence of rebels, ele­phant poach­ers and ille­gal min­ers, are the prin­ci­pal threats to its survival.

The Okapi is revered in Congo as a national sym­bol — it even fea­tures on the Con­golese franc ban­knotes. Sadly, DRC has been caught up in civil con­flict and rav­aged by poverty for nearly two decades, lead­ing to wide­spread degra­da­tion of Okapi habi­tat and hunt­ing for its meat and skin. Sup­port­ing gov­ern­ment efforts to tackle the civil con­flict and extreme poverty in the region are crit­i­cal to secur­ing its survival.
(Dr Noëlle Küm­pel, Co-​Chair of the IUCN SSC Giraffe and Okapi Spe­cial­ist Group, man­ager of Zoo­log­i­cal Soci­ety London’s range-​wide okapi con­ser­va­tion project)

Okapi walk­ing in the for­est, video made avail­able on YouTube by Okapi­Con­ser­va­tion. The Okapi Con­ser­va­tion Project is located within the Ituri For­est, in the Demo­c­ra­tic Repub­lic of Congo. The Okapi Wildlife Reserve was cre­ated in 1992, encom­pass­ing 13,700 square kilo­me­ters, in 1996, it was des­ig­nated as a United Nation’s World Her­itage Site:

White-winged flufftailAccord­ing to the update, almost 200 species of bird are now Crit­i­cally Endan­gered, fac­ing the high­est risk of extinc­tion. The White-​winged Fluff­tail (
Sarothrura ayresi), a small, secre­tive bird which occurs in Ethiopia, Zim­babwe and South Africa, is the lat­est species to join this cat­e­gory. Destruc­tion and degra­da­tion of its habi­tat, includ­ing wet­land drainage, con­ver­sion for agri­cul­ture, water abstrac­tion, over­graz­ing by live­stock and cut­ting of marsh veg­e­ta­tion, have dri­ven it to this pre­car­i­ous state. Urgent action is now needed to bet­ter under­stand the species’ ecol­ogy and to address these threats.

Although the global pop­u­la­tion of the Leatherback Tur­tle (Der­mochelys cori­acea) — the largest of all liv­ing tur­tles — has improved from Crit­i­cally Endan­gered to Vul­ner­a­ble, the species con­tin­ues to face seri­ous threats at a sub­pop­u­la­tion level.

Leatherbacks are a sin­gle species, glob­ally com­pris­ing seven bio­log­i­cally and geo­graph­i­cally dis­tinct sub­pop­u­la­tions. The North­west Atlantic Ocean Leatherback sub­pop­u­la­tion is abun­dant and increas­ing thanks to suc­cess­ful con­ser­va­tion ini­tia­tives in the region. In con­trast, the East Pacific Ocean sub­pop­u­la­tion, which nests along the Pacific coast of the Amer­i­cas, and the West Pacific Ocean sub­pop­u­la­tion, found in Malaysia, Indone­sia, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, are both in severe decline due to exten­sive egg har­vest and inci­den­tal cap­ture in fish­ing gear. Tar­geted con­ser­va­tion efforts are needed to pre­vent their collapse.

This IUCN Red List update also brings good news for some of the species assessed
Two species of alba­tross — one of the most threat­ened of the planet’s bird fam­i­lies — are now at a lower risk of extinc­tion due to increases in their pop­u­la­tions. The Black-​browed Alba­tross (
Tha­las­sarche melanophrys) has moved from Endan­gered to Near Threat­ened and the Black-​footed Alba­tross (Phoe­bas­tria nigripes) has moved from Vul­ner­a­ble to Near Threat­ened. By-​catch in fish­eries is the main threat to these species.

Island fox pairThe Island Fox (Uro­cyon lit­toralis), pre­vi­ously Crit­i­cally Endan­gered, has also improved in sta­tus and is now listed as Near Threat­ened. Found on six of the Cal­i­for­nia Chan­nel Islands off the coast of south­ern Cal­i­for­nia, four Island Fox sub­species suf­fered cat­a­strophic declines in the mid 1990s mainly due to dis­ease and pre­da­tion by non-​native species, such as the Golden Eagle. All four sub­species have now recov­ered or are approach­ing recov­ery. This is mainly due to suc­cess­ful con­ser­va­tion work of IUCN Mem­ber the U.S. National Park Ser­vice, which included cap­tive breed­ing, rein­tro­duc­tion, vac­ci­na­tion against canine dis­eases and relo­ca­tion of Golden Eagles.

“This IUCN Red List update shows some fan­tas­tic con­ser­va­tion suc­cesses, which we must learn from, for future con­ser­va­tion efforts,” says Jane Smart, Global Direc­tor, IUCN Bio­di­ver­sity Con­ser­va­tion Group, “How­ever, the over­all mes­sage remains bleak. With each update, whilst we see some species improv­ing in sta­tus, there is a sig­nif­i­cantly larger num­ber of species appear­ing in the threat­ened cat­e­gories. The world must urgently scale up efforts to avert this dev­as­tat­ing trend.”

(Source: IUCN Red List news release, 26.11.2013)

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