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Alaotra grebe declared extinct and 12.5% of bird species declared endangered

26/05/2010 12:29:03
birds/2010 jan/alaotra_grebe_chris_rose

Alaotra Grebe has been declared Extinct in the 2010 Red List update for birds. Photo credit Chris Rose.

The Alaotra grebe: The latest strand snipped from the web of life

May 2010. The latest assessment of the extinction threat facing the world's birds states shows the total number of bird species facing global extinction now stands at 1240 species (around an eighth of the world's 10027 bird species). This is a rise of 21 from last year's assessment.

Alaotra grebe from Madagascar
The publication of the 2010 IUCN Red List update for birds, by BirdLife International, has also confirmed the extinction of the Alaotra grebe, a type of small water bird previously confined to a tiny area of Madagascar. The grebe's demise brings the total number of bird species thought to have become extinct since 1600 to 132. This species declined rapidly after carnivorous fish were introduced to the lakes where it lived. This, along with the use of nylon gill-nets by fishermen - which caught and drowned birds - has driven this species into the abyss.

Some successes - Trend is downward
Dr Tim Stowe is the RSPB's International Director. Commenting on the current extinction crisis facing the world's birds, he said: "The confirmation of the extinction of yet another bird species is further evidence that we are not doing enough in the fight to protect the world's wildlife. Although there are some key successes, overall the trend is downward, bringing more species year on year to the brink of extinction and beyond."

25 species added to the Redlist
In total 25 species of bird have joined the list of those facing global extinction, while only three have dropped from the list because of an improvement in their status or a reduction in the threat they face. Just under half of the species were added to the list because they are newly-recognised species, such as two buntings from the UK Overseas Territory of Tristan da Cunha and a species of seabird recently described from the Azores. However, 13 species have joined the list because of a genuine deterioration in their conservation status.

Redlist changes 2010

Other key changes to the 2010 IUCN Red List for birds facing global extinction include:

  • Corsican nuthatch and the recently-recognised Monteiro's storm-petrel -which is confined to the Azores - are added to the list of those birds facing extinction in Europe. Twenty-seven species of European bird are now recognised as facing global extinction.
  • Laysan albatross is removed from the list following an improved understanding about the bird's population. The Chatham albatross from New Zealand has also been downlisted from Critically Endangered to Vulnerable for the same reason.
  • The recent recognition of Inaccessible bunting and Nightingale bunting from the two islands sharing their names in the UK overseas territory of Tristan da Cunha brings the total number of bird species facing extinction within the UK Overseas Territories to 33.
  • The addition of the great knot and far eastern curlew (two species of migratory wading bird reliant on wetland habitats along the eastern seaboard of Asia) is a sign that the wetlands and the wildlife of this region are increasingly in trouble. The destruction of intertidal mudflats at Saemangeum, in South Korea, correlated to a reduction of one fifth of the world population of great knot, following the loss of one of the bird's most important migratory stop-over sites.

Azores bullfinch numbers up
Among the good news in this report is the improvement in the status of the Azores bullfinch - a finch found only on the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores. The RSPB has worked alongside its BirdLife International partner in Portugal, SPEA, and others to turn around the fortunes of this species, which has been threatened by the encroachment of non-native plants into its native habitat. As a result of removing the threat, the threat status of the Azores bullfinch has been lowered from Critically Endangered to Endangered.

Dr Tim Stowe added: "This is a remarkable example of conservation action succeeding in turning the tide for a highly threatened species. 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."

Alaotra grebe sightings
Alaotra Grebe was known only from Madagascar where it was known chiefly from Lake Alaotra. The species was probably incapable of prolonged flight, so in all likelihood never occurred very far from Lake Alaotra. There have been no direct observations since 12 were seen at Lake Alaotra in December 1982, and two in September 1985. Individuals with some characters of the species (probably hybrids with Little Grebe, or their descendents) were also seen on Lake Alaotra in 1986 and 1988, but by 1999 none were left. The most recent surveys in the region in 2009 by Conservation International and the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust failed to find any grebes. It is now highly unlikely that any Alaotra Grebes survive.  

Critically Endangered species
In total, three species have been uplisted to Critically Endangered (Zapata Rail Cyanolimnas cerverai, White-bellied Cinclodes Cinclodes palliatus, Black-winged Starling Sturnus melanopterus) and three have been downlisted from Critically Endangered to Endangered (Chatham Albatross Thalassarche eremita, Yellow-eared Parrot Ognorhynchus icterotis, Azores Bullfinch Pyrrhula murina), one has been reclassified from Critically Endangered to Not Recognised (Entre Rios Seedeater Sporophila zelichi) and one has been uplisted from Critically Endangered to Extinct (Alaotra Grebe Tachybaptus rufolavatus).  

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