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The world's 100 most threatened species - Are they priceless or worthless?

13/09/2012 10:05:59

Peacock parachute spider, Poecilotheria metallica Copyright Sanjay Molur_WILD_ZOO

What is a species worth?

September 2012. Tarzan's chameleon, the spoon-billed sandpiper and the pygmy three-toed sloth have all topped a new list of the species closest to extinction released by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

For the first time ever, more than 8,000 scientists from the IUCN Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC) have come together to identify 100 of the most threatened animals, plants and fungi on the planet. But conservationists fear they'll be allowed to die out because none of these species provide humans with obvious benefits.

Difficult conservation
Professor Jonathan Baillie, ZSL's Director of Conservation explains: "The donor community and conservation movement are leaning increasingly towards a ‘what can nature do for us' approach, where species and wild habitats are valued and prioritised according to the services they provide for people. This has made it increasingly difficult for conservationists to protect the most threatened species on the planet.

While the utilitarian value of nature is important conservation goes beyond this. Do these species have a right to survive or do we have a right to drive them to extinction?"

Priceless or Worthless
The report, called Priceless or Worthless?, will be presented at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in South Korea this month (Tues 11th Sept), and hopes to push the conservation of 'worthless' creatures up the agenda that is set by NGOs from around the globe.

Co-author of the report, ZSL's Ellen Butcher says: "All the species listed are unique and irreplaceable. If they vanish, no amount of money can bring them back. However, if we take immediate action we can give them a fighting chance for survival. But this requires society to support the moral and ethical position that all species have an inherent right to exist."

Decline often caused by humans
Their declines have mainly been caused by humans, but in almost all cases scientists believe their extinction can still be avoided if conservation efforts are specifically focused. Conservation actions deliver results with many species such as Przewalski's Horse (Equus ferus) and Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) have being saved from extinction.

The 100 species, from 48 different countries are first in line to disappear completely if nothing is done to protect them.

Pygmy three-toed sloth
The pygmy three-toed sloth (Bradypus pygmaeus) is one of the animals facing a bleak future. Escudo Island, 17km off the coast of Panama, is the only place in the world where these tiny sloths are found. At half the size of their mainland cousins, and weighing roughly the same as a newborn baby, pygmy sloths are the smallest and slowest sloths in the world and remain Critically Endangered.

Saola - Pseudoryx nghetinhensis - Very little is known about this enigmatic antelope. Copyright Toon Fey WWF

Saola - Pseudoryx nghetinhensis - Very little is known about this enigmatic antelope. Copyright Toon Fey WWF

Similarly, the saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) is one of the most threatened mammals in Southeast Asia. Known as the Asian unicorn because of its rarity, the population of these antelope may be down to few tens of individuals today.

Willow blister
In the UK, a small area in Wales is the only place in the world where the brightly coloured willow blister (Cryptomyces maximus) is found. Populations of the spore-shooting fungi are currently in decline, and a single catastrophic event could cause their total destruction.

Professor Baillie adds: "If we believe these species are priceless it is time for the conservation community, government and industry to step up to the plate and show future generations that we value all life.''

Whilst monetising nature remains a worthwhile necessity for conservationists, the wider value of species on the brink of extinction should not be disregarded, the report states.

"All species have a value to nature and thus in turn to humans," says Dr Simon Stuart, Chair IUCN Species Survival Commission. "Although the value of some species may not appear obvious at first, all species in fact contribute in their way to the healthy functioning of the planet." 

List of the 100 most threatened species 

Scientific Name

Common Name



Threats to Survival

Abies beshanzuensis

Baishan Fir


5 mature individuals

Agricultural expansion and fire

Actinote zikani



Unknown, one population remaining

Habitat degradation due to pressure from human populations

Aipysurus foliosquama

Leaf scaled sea-snake


Unknown, two subpopulations remain

Unknown - likely degradation of coral reef habitat

Amanipodagrion gilliesi

Amani Flatwing


<500 individuals est.

Habitat degradation due to increasing population pressure and water pollution

Antilophia bokermanni

Araripe Manakin


779 individuals (est 2010)

abitat destruction due to expansion of agriculture and recreational facilities and water diversion

Antisolabis seychellensis

Seychelles earwig


Unknown (declining)

Invasive species and climate change

Aphanius transgrediens


freshwater fish

Unknown (declining)

Competition and predation by Gambusia and road construction

Aproteles bulmerae

Bulmer's Fruit Bat


150 individuals (est)

Hunting and cave disturbance

Ardea insignis

White bellied heron


70-400 individuals

Habitat destruction and degradation due to hydropower development

Ardeotis nigriceps

Great Indian Bustard


50 -249 mature individuals

Habitat loss and modification due to agricultural development

Astrochelys yniphora

Ploughshare tortoise / angonoka



Illegal collection for international pet trade

Atelopus balios

Rio pescado stubfoot toad


Unknown (declining)

Chytridiomycosis and habitat destruction due to logging and agricultural expansion

Aythya innotata

Madagascar Pochard


approximately 20 mature individuals

Habitat degradation due to slash-and-burn agriculture, hunting, and fishing / introduced fish

Azurina eupalama

Galapagos damsel fish

pelagic fish

Unknown (declining)

Climate Change - oceanographic changes associated with the 1982 / 1983 El Nino are presumed to be responsible for the apparent disappearance of this species from the Galapagos

Bahaba taipingensis

Giant yellow croaker

pelagic fish

Unknown (declining)

Over-fishing, primarily due to value of swim-bladder for traditional medicine - cost per kilogram exceeded that of gold in 2001

Batagur baska

Common Batagur/ Four-toed terrapin


Unknown (declining)

Illegal export and trade from Indonesia to China

Bazzania bhutanica



Unknown (declining)

Habitat degradation and destruction due to forest clearance, overgrazing and development

Beatragus hunteri



< 1000 individuals

 Habitat loss and degradation, competition with livestock, poaching

Bombus franklini

Franklin's Bumble Bee


Unknown (declining)

Disease from commercially bred bumblebees and habitat destruction and degradation

Brachyteles hypoxanthus

Northern muriqui


< 1,000 individuals

Habitat loss and fragmentation due to large-scale deforestation and selective logging

Bradypus pygmaeus

Pygmy sloth


<500 individuals

Habitat loss due to illegal logging of mangrove forests for firewood and construction and hunting of the sloths

Callitriche pulchra


freshwater plant

Unknown (declining)

Exploitation of the species' habitat by stock, and modification of the pool by local people

Calumma tarzan

Tarzan's chameleon



Habitat destruction for agriculture

Cavia intermedia

Santa Catarina's guinea pig

guinea pig

40-60 individuals

Habitat disturbance and possible hunting; small population effects

Cercopithecus roloway

Roloway Guenon



hunting for consumption as bushmeat, and habitat loss

Coleura seychellensis

Seychelles sheath-tailed bat


<100 mature individuals (est 2008)

Habitat degradation and predation by invasive species

Cryptomyces maximus



Unknown (declining)

Limited availability of habitat

Cryptotis nelsoni

Nelson's small-eared shrew


Unknown (declining)

habitat loss due to logging cattle grazing, fire and agriculture

Cyclura collei

Jamaican iguana


Unknown (declining)

Predation by introduced species and habitat destruction

Dendrophylax fawcettii

Cayman islands ghost orchid


Unknown (declining)

Habitat destruction due to infrastructure development

Dicerorhinus sumatrensis

Sumatran rhino


<250 individuals

Hunting for horn -used in traditional medicine

Diomedea amsterdamensis

Amsterdam Island albatross


100 mature individuals

disease and incidental capture in long-line fishing operations

Diospyros katendei



20 individuals, one population

High pressure from communities for agricultural activity, illegal tree felling, habitat degradation due to alluvial gold digging and small population

Dipterocarpus lamellatus


dipterocarp (tree)

12 individuals

Habitat loss and degradation due to logging of lowland forest and creation of industrial plantations

Discoglossus nigriventer

Hula painted frog


Unknown (recent rediscovery in 2011)

Predation by birds and range restriction due to habitat destruction

Discorea strydomiana

Wild Yam


200 individuals

Collection for medicinal use

Dombeya mauritiana


flowering plant

Unknown (declining)

Habitat degradation and destruction due to encroachment by alien invasive plant species and cannabis cultivation

Elaeocarpus bojeri


flowering plant

<10 individuals

Small population and degraded habitat

Eleutherodactylus glandulifer

La Hotte Glanded Frog


Unknown (declining)

Habitat destruction due to charcoal production and slash-and-burn agriculture

Eleutherodactylus thorectes

Macaya Breast-spot frog



Habitat destruction due to charcoal production and slash-and-burn agriculture

Eriosyce chilensis



<500 individuals

Collection of flowering individuals

Erythrina schliebenii

coral tree

flowering tree

< 50 individuals

Limited habitat and small population size increasing vulnerability to stochastic events

Euphorbia tanaensis


semi-deciduous tree

4 mature individuals

Illegal logging and habitat degradation due to agricultural expansion and infrastructure development

Eurynorhynchus pygmeus

Spoon-billed sandpiper


< 100 breeding pairs

Trapping on wintering grounds and land reclamation.

Ficus katendei


tree (ficus)

< 50 mature individuals

 Agricultural activity, illegal tree felling and habitat degradation due to alluvial gold digging

Geronticus eremita

Northern Bald Ibis


200-249 mature individuals

Habitat degradation and destruction, and hunting

Gigasiphon macrosiphon


flowering tree

33 mature individuals

 Timber extraction and habitat degradation due to agricultural encroachment and development, seed predation by wild pigs

Gocea ohridana



Unknown (declining)

Habitat degradation due to increasing pollution levels, off-take of water and sedimentation events

Heleophryne rosei

Table Mountain ghost frog


Unknown (declining)

Habitat degradation due to invasive plants and water abstraction

Hemicycla paeteliana



Unknown (declining)

Habitat destruction due to overgrazing and trampling by goats and tourists

Heteromirafra sidamoensis

Liben Lark


90- 256 individuals

Habitat loss and degradation due to agricultural expansion, over-grazing and fire suppression

Hibiscadelphus woodii




Habitat degradation due to feral ungulates and invasive introduced plant species

Hucho perryi (Parahucho perryi)

Sakhalin taimen


Unknown (declining)

Overfishing (sport fishing and commercial bycatch) and habitat loss from damming, agriculture and other land use practices.

Johora singaporensis

Singapore Freshwater Crab



Habitat degradation - reduction in water quality and quantity

Lathyrus belinensis



<1,000 (2010 est)

Habitat destruction due to urbanisation, over-grazing, conifer planting and road widening

Leiopelma archeyi

Archey's frog


unknown but declining

Chytridiomycosis and predation by invasive species

Lithobates sevosus

Dusky gopher frog


60-100 individuals (est 2003)

Fungal disease and habitat limitation due to climate change and land-use changes

Lophura edwardsi

Edward's pheasant



hunting and habitat loss

Magnolia wolfii



Unknown (declining)

 Isolation of species and low regeneration rates

Margaritifera marocana



<250 individuals (2010 est)

Habitat degradation and disturbance due to pollution and development

Moominia willii



< 500 individuals

 Invasive species and climate change

Natalus primus

Cuban greater funnel eared bat


<100 individuals (est 2005)

habitat loss and human disturbance

Nepenthes attenboroughii

Attenborough's Pitcher Plant

carnivorous plant



Neurergus kaiseri

Luristan newt


<1000 mature individuals

Illegal collection for pet trade

Nomascus hainanus

Hainan Gibbon


< 20 individuals


Oreocnemis phoenix

Mulanje Red Damsel


Unknown (declining)

Habitat destruction and degradation due to drainage, agricultural expansion and exploitation of forest

Pangasius sanitwongsei

Pangasid catfish

freshwater fish

Unknown (declining)

Overfishing and collection for aquarium trade

Parides burchellanus



< 100 individuals

Habitat degrdation due to pressure from human populations and range restriction

Phocoena sinus



<200 individuals and declining

Incidental capture in gillnets

Picea neoveitchii



Unknown (declining)

Forest destruction 

Pinus squamata

Qiaojia Pine


< 25 mature individuals

Limited distribution and small population size

Poecilotheria metallica

Peacock Parachute Spider



Habitat loss and degradation as a result of deforestation, firewood collection and civil unrest

Pomarea whitneyi

Fatuhiva monarch


50 individuals

Predation by introduced species - Rattus rattus and feral cats

Pristis pristis

Common Sawfish


Unknown (declining)

Exploitation - has removed the species from 95% of its historical range

Prolemur simus

Greater bamboo lemur


100-160 individuals

Habitat destruction due to slash-and-burn agriculture, mining and illegal logging

Propithecus candidus

Silky Sifaka


100 -1,000 individuals

Hunting and habitat disturbance

Psammobates geometricus

Geometric tortoise



Habitat destruction and degradation, and predation

Pseudoryx nghetinhensis


saola (bovid affinities)


Hunting and habitat destruction

Psiadia cataractae


flowering plant


Habitat degradation and destruction due to development project and alien invasive plant species

Psorodonotus ebneri

Beydaglari Bush-cricket



climate change, habitat loss

Rafetus swinhoei

Red River giant softshell turtle


4 known individuals

Hunting for consumption and habitat destruction and degradation as a result of wetland destruction and pollution

Rhinoceros sondaicus

Javan rhino


< 100 individuals

Hunting for traditional medicine and small population size

Rhinopithecus avunculus

Tonkin snub-nosed monkey


< 200 individuals

habitat loss and hunting. Known from only a few records in small area of habitat ( less than 10km2),

Rhizanthella gardneri

West Australian underground Orchid


< 100 individuals

Land clearance for agriculture (96% habitat cleared to date), climate change and salinisation

Rhynchocyon spp.

Boni Giant Sengi


Unknown (declining)

Highly restricted habitat and distribution, security issues, oil development in area with associated increase in human population in area

Risiocnemis seidenschwarzi

Cebu frill-wing


Unknown (declining)

Habitat degradation and destruction.

Rosa arabica


flowering tree

Unknown (declining)

Domestic animals grazing, climate change and drought, medicinal plant collection and restricted range

Salanoia durrelli

Durrell's Vontsira

vontsira (small carnivore)

Unknown (declining)

Habitat loss

Santamartamys rufodorsalis

Red-crested tree rat



Habitat loss through urban development and coffee cultivation

Scaturiginichthys vermeilipinnis

Red-finned blue eye

freshwater fish

2,000 - 4,000 individuals

Predation by introduced species

Squatina squatina

Angel shark


Unknown (declining)

Benthic trawling

Sterna bernsteini

Chinese crested tern


< 50 mature individuals

Egg collection and habitat destruction

Syngnathus watermeyeri

Estuarine Pipefish (River Pipefish)


Unknown (declining)

Construction of dams altering river flows and flood events into estuaries

Tahina spectabilis

Suicide Palm


90 individuals

Habitat loss due to fires, logging and agricultural developments

Telmatobufo bullocki

Bullock's false toad



Habita destruction as a result of energy development

Tokudaia muenninki

Okinawa Spiny Rat


unknown (declining)

Habtiat loss and predation by feral cats

Trigonostigma somphongsi

Somphongs's rasbora

freshwater fish

Unknown (declining)

Habitat loss and degradation from farmland conversion and urbanization

Valencia letourneuxi


freshwater fish

Unknown (declining)

Habitat destruction, water abstraction and agressive interaction with Gambusia

Voanioala gerardii

Forest Coconut


< 10 individuals

Harvesting for consumption of palm heart and deforestation

Zaglossus attenboroughi

Attenborough's Echidna



Habitat modification and degradation due to logging, agricultural encroachment shifting cultivation and hunting by local people

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