Bangkok, Nov. 17: The Earth is losing species at a rate comparable to the mass extinction of the dinosaurs, environmentalists warn today.
The World Conservation Union's annual Red List of endangered species, released at its conference in Bangkok, lists five species that have been added to the 'extinct' category. Nearly 16,000 species are listed as being threatened with disappearing, with more than 200 of them already described as 'possibly extinct', and almost 3,000 as 'critically endangered'.
The list, compiled by a worldwide network of 8,000 scientists, is regarded as the most authoritative statement of the planet's biodiversity and guides environmental policies around the world.
Officials of the World Conservation Union (IUCN), which brings together governments, scientists, activists and the private sector in the world's biggest environmental umbrella organisation, said extinctions were happening up to 1,000 times faster than the natural 'background' rate.
There have been five mass extinctions in the history of the Earth, one of which saw the end of the dinosaurs and the rise of the mammals. Chris Hilton-Taylor, the Red List programme officer, said: 'The rate of loss of biodiversity is getting worse. We are facing the sixth extinction.'
The five newly lost species include the St Helena olive, a tree native to the British Atlantic island, the last surviving specimen of which died in December after attempts to breed from it failed.
Others include the golden toad, which lived on a mountain ridge in Costa Rica. The last example was seen 15 years ago. The same time frame applies to the Hawaiian thrush, eliminated by destruction of its forest habitat.
Another species native to the American Pacific islands, the Hawaiian crow, was listed as extinct in the wild.
A Malagasy freshwater fish known only by its Latin name, Pantanodon madagascariensis, disappeared after its swamp habitat was converted into rice fields, and a Brazilian amphibian, Phrynomedusa fimbriata, has not been seen since it was discovered 80 years ago.
But two species previously believed to be extinct, the New Zealand storm petrel and the Miller Lake lamprey, an American fish intentionally eliminated from its Oregon home to stop it eating trout fingerlings, were recategorised after new specimens were discovered.
Simon Stuart, the IUCN's senior adviser on biodiversity assessment, said the extinctions were not simply the result of Darwinian natural selection. 'What's happening now is extraordinary, more than anything seen in the fossil record, and it is affecting many more groups.'
He added that extinctions were underestimated because of the difficulty and expense in establishing that a species had vanished.
Stuart said: 'Extinctions taking place for climatic change reasons and new emerging diseases are warnings of much more dangerous things happening in the biosphere which will affect us and affect the productive economic systems we all live off.' If no measures were taken to address the issue, he added, 'we are going to find much more scary things happening in terms of the liveability of the planet and then we will wish we had taken the warnings other species had given us'.