As Head of the Red List Unit of the IUCN’s Global Species Program, Craig Hilton-Taylor is responsible for ensuring both the quality and availability of what is widely regarded as the world’s most powerful tool for conservation. A data set that includes taxonomic, conservation status and distribution information for more than 71,000 species, and over 2,000 subspecies, The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species ™(hereafter the IUCN Red List) provides a barometer for global biodiversity and guides conservation action and policy worldwide.

Collaborating with experts around the world, working alongside other units of the IUCN Global Species Program, and leading the Red List Unit staff, Craig ensures the scientific rigor of the global assessment—and reassessment–of plant, animal and fungi species, and the placement of those species on the IUCN Red List. He is also responsible for making sure that assessment results are published and made publicly available for worldwide use.  In the 15 years since he started the IUCN Red List Unit, Craig has facilitated more than 60 Red List training and assessment workshops in 30 countries, and has authored or co-authored more than 70 publications on the topic of threatened species. He has given voice to threatened plants and animals in all corners of the world, before audiences ranging from international congresses to television viewers. On this, the 50th anniversary of the IUCN Red List, we are thrilled to have the chance to learn more about Craig’s work and how if affects ours.

Can you briefly describe the assessment process for IUCN Red List species?

To begin with, there is a set of rules that we have adopted for how we do assessments. Those rules include a set of parameters which are generally used to estimate the risk of extinction for species (these include population size and structure, population declines, range size, etc.). So we have a set of rules with criteria that have quantitative thresholds which are used to trigger different categories of extinction risk (the rule-set is what we refer to as the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria). We then use experts to gather data on specific species that will enable us to apply the Red List Criteria to them in order to determine their risk of extinction. For example we look at whether a species meets any of the thresholds for population decline rates, for range area loss, etc.

To do the assessments, we might bring all the experts together in a workshop, and have them share the knowledge and information they have on these species. This also includes information about threats to the species or the habitats in which it occurs. We ask questions like has this species had habitat loss? Why? Is it because of agriculture? If it’s agriculture, is it intensive farming, or slash and burn? We try to drill down to get at the cause of loss. We also ask about conservation actions.  What has been done about this species? Is it in a protected area? What other conservation interventions are required and can realistically be achieved in the next five to ten years? The information is all entered into a database and compared against the Red List Categories and Criteria to generate a draft Red List assessment.

Every expert cannot come to every workshop. So after the assessment workshop, there is a review process whereby those who couldn’t come to the workshop check the documentation and conclusions reached at the workshop. They check the information, add to it, and after everyone is happy the assessment is then ready to move to the next stage. Each assessment then gets reviewed by an independent person.  Once the review is complete, the assessments are submitted to the Red List Unit where further checks take place (mainly to ensure consistency in approach across all taxonomic groups) and are then published on the IUCN Red List web site. Updates to the Red List website happen generally twice a year.

Is there a regular interval at which Red List species are reassessed?

We have assessed all bird species worldwide, and they have been reassessed every four years since 1988. We’d love to have a set interval like this for all species, but unfortunately that is not the case. With birds, there is such a vast number of very knowledgeable amateurs who can contribute data. We don’t have the same [amount of knowledgeable amateurs] for all other taxonomic groups. We have assessed mammals twice. We did a complete assessment of the world’s mammals in 1996, and we did it again for publication in 2008. We are doing it again now, to hopefully be published next year. The time intervals between assessments can be quite long. Ideally we’d like to assess every group at least once every 10 years, but finding the resources to enable us to do that is a challenge. We also encourage more frequent assessments for species that are listed as Critically Endangered or that are known to be under high levels of threat.  In addition we encourage research projects to gather more information on species listed as Data Deficient.

So the interval for reassessment is dependent upon the tools and support you have available?

Yes. We are trying to look at how we could use on-line discussion forums, because then we don’t have to pay to bring people across the world to a workshop. They could just go on line at any point and contribute to the discussion forum. We are trying out this new technology with some mammals, amphibians and reptiles. For the reptiles, it’s a baseline assessment, whereas for the mammals and amphibians, it’s a reassessment. Anybody can add comments provided they are registered, and there are moderators for each discussion, who will take all the comments and distill them down to create the new assessment.  We have teamed up with iNaturalist, a Citizen Science initiative that is run out of the California Academy of Sciences. They have the right technology in place for us to use. These on-line discussion forums are still in a trial phase, but they look to be a cheaper and more viable alternative and can involve a wider number of people. [Click here for more on the assessment process and online forums.]

The IUCN is very honest about the shortcomings of the IUCN Red List (e.g., bias toward species from forest ecosystems, low number of assessed marine species). In your time with the Red List Unit, how much progress has been made in improving some of the weaknesses?

We have made very significant progress. When I started this unit we had about 17,000 species on the list. Today we have nearly 72,000. We have tried to focus our efforts more on the areas where we know we are weak. For example, we had a big push on freshwater species, so now we have more freshwater fish, mollusks, and dragonflies, then we had 15 years ago, plus all freshwater crabs, shrimps and crayfishes have been assessed world-wide. We have a marine team working with the IUCN SSC Specialist Groups to assess the status of all marine fish and selected marine invertebrates  around the world, so now there are over 4,000 marine fish species (out of the approximately 20,000 known) on the IUCN Red List. We have done complete assessment of whole groups such as the sharks and rays, the tunas, groupers and various other fish groups.

For marine invertebrates we have assessed the status of all warm water reef-forming corals (over 800 species). We have tackled some key ecosystems within the marine environment like mangroves and sea-grass beds, but there’s still a long way to go before we have adequate representation of the marine realm.

Pezuña de Venado (Ariocarpus kotschoubeyanus) ©Craig Hilton-Taylor

Pezuña de Venado

On the plant side, we recently completed the first global assessment of cactus species (about 1,700 species). The number of plant species on the IUCN Red List is going up , and we now have just under 18,500 plants on the Red List and this is set to rise rapidly in the next few years as a result of several new global and national initiatives.

We have identified the key groups we want to cover in the next 10 years (see the IUCN Red List Strategic Plan 2013-2020 for details). For example, we have a big project underway to look into plant species that are important to people for food, timber, and medicine. If we can get a handle on those species, we can provide crucial information on a key set of species that are important to human livelihoods.

There are other areas where we know we are weak. For example we haven’t done much assessment of groups like fungi, algae (including seaweeds), mosses and ferns. There are only four species of fungi, and only a handful of seaweed species on the Red List. Those are two groups with which we are focusing on at present to ensure they are better represented on the IUCN Red List.

Can you tell us about one of the latest species to be added to the IUCN Red List, and how it became added to the list? I’d like to know about the species and the assessment process.

I’ll tell you two different stories, and they illustrate different things. We currently have a large initiative to assess the status of reptile species around the world. We have held a number of assessment workshops under this initiative, one of which was in the Western Ghats in India, an extremely rich area for all types of species, particularly reptiles. One of the species being assessed was the Jeypore Ground Gecko. No one had seen this species since it was first collected in 1877. In 2011, during the preparations leading up to the workshop, the local experts involved in the assessment did some field work to see if they could relocate this species and they were successful in finding a small population.  Then, just before the workshop, they found another small subpopulation just a few kilometers away. In both instances, the experts also witnessed that the habitat the species was found in was under severe threat from mining, deforestation and replanting with plantation forests, and increasing forest fires. So the Jeypore Ground Gecko came onto the Red List for the first time as Critically Endangered.

The other story is one about the Cocteau’s Skink, a species we were assessing which was only known to occur on the Cape Verde islands off the coast of West Africa. This species is, sadly, listed as Extinct. All attempts to find it had failed, and we are pretty sure it went extinct a long time ago. It’s gone because of large predators, like cats and dogs. It would’ve also been eaten by people. It has taken a long time to gather sufficient evidence to ensure that this species was no longer extant, and that it was not being confused with one of the other skink species on the islands, and so although it probably went extinct a long-time ago, it was only listed in 2013 as definitely being Extinct.

Speaking of extinct species…there has been a lot of press lately about “de-extinction,” the attempt to resurrect extinct species through genetic technology. What is your (and the IUCN’s) opinion on de-extinction?

IUCN does not have an official opinion on this. Trying to resurrect a species from genetics is extremely difficult.  There haven’t been any cases as yet where a whole species has been recreated from genetic material. The potential challenges of doing that are enormous. It may well be achieved, but that’s just one individual. How do you get multiple individuals, and once you do, what do you do with them? There has been a lot of talk about recreating the Woolly Mammoth, but where would you put the mammoth once you got it back again? At this stage, we are many, many years away from this becoming a reality. Even though the potential is possibly there, we cannot afford to be complacent and hope that genetic engineering will come to our rescue. We have to do everything else that we possibly can to stop species from going extinct.

[De-extinction] is a bit of a red herring. Many conservationists argue that the technocrats will continue to explore the potential of doing this and good discoveries will no doubt come out of this experimentation, but it’s not going to be the conservation solution to loss of species.

I read that the “traditional” role of the IUCN Red List: identifying particular species at risk of extinction, has been expanded to encompass the use of data for multi-species analyses. Is this what the new tool, the IUCN’s Red List of Ecosystems is all about? Are you involved in that? What can you tell us about it?

I have been involved with the Red List of Ecosystems, but that’s not what we are referring to when we talk about multi-species analysis.  Because we are now getting more and more data from whole taxonomic groups, we can now start to put that data together and do multiple-species analyses comparing the results across lots of different groups. That gives you much more meaningful information for guiding conservation policy and planning.

For example, in November of this year, we will hold the IUCN World Parks Conference (an event which happens only once every 10 years) in Australia. This  event that brings together people involved in planning, managing and utilizing national parks, nature reserves, etc. Some of these people decide which areas need to  be set aside for protection. As species people, we are able to go to this conference and say, “Based on our multiple-species analyses, where we have grouped as many species groups together as possible, here are the important spots for conserving biodiversity.” We then try to see if the protected areas are in the right places (i.e. a Gap Analysis).  You can’t do that if you don’t have those multiple data sets.

The IUCN Red List of Ecosystems is a fairly new initiative that is being implemented jointly by the IUCN Commission on Ecosystem Management and the Ecosystem Management Program, in consultation with the IUCN Species Survival Commission and the IUCN Global Species Program.   They are trying to do something analogous to the species approach, but looking at ecosystems.  This includes developing a set of criteria and thresholds, which are currently in their second draft and are being widely tested.

There are lots of tricky issues with this approach which have had to be resolved and some are still being researched to work out the best ways forward. For example, what is an ecosystem? It is hard to define what an ecosystem really is. It occurs in multidimensional space, so it is very difficult to draw boundaries around it. We have to come up with some sort of proxy for an ecosystem. There is no global, agreed classification scheme for vegetation types, marine habitats, etc.  The U.S. Geological Survey together with NatureServe, is leading a global vegetation classification initiative, and it looks as though that might give us a suitable proxy for terrestrial ecosystems, although it still has some way to go to before the whole world is mapped. What we do with freshwater and marine environments has yet to be decided.  The concept they are trying to measure is ecosystem collapse, because you can’t have extinction with an ecosystem. But ecosystems are naturally changing, and often moving from one state to another, so defining that collapse is tricky as well.  The architects of the scheme are keen to get the methodology approved and adopted by IUCN Council this year, but I suspect it may take quite a lot more testing and refinement of the criteria before the system is widely adopted and used.  The key thing to remember is that we don’t see the Red List of Ecosystems as THE new approach; it is complementary to the species approach. Together, they can give us a good picture of what is happening to the environment.

In your opinion, which nations, if any, stand out as doing the most to sustain/protect their Red List species and are those efforts working?

We talk more about individual species than individual countries. It’s such a fluid situation out there. Governments change, and [nations] that are doing well can suddenly move backwards. We don’t want to pick on any individual country, but we do like to make sure countries are careful about how they use the Red List. Often countries will take the IUCN Red List, or even their own national list, and have a knee jerk reaction of saying “everything that is threatened must immediately have all sorts of protection.”   We encourage countries not to do that, but to look at the causes of the threats, so that they take the most appropriate action for the species. We have a document available which provides guidance on appropriate use of the IUCN Red List data.

We always say that the Red List should feed into your legislation, but it should also be with a whole host of other factors: What resources do you have available? What will the impacts be? Does the legislation affect the real issue?

Can you share a few success stories that can offer both hope and guidance to those of us working to protect and restore biodiversity? Once a species rebounds and comes off of the IUCN Red List, does the IUCN do anything to support its long-term survival?)

That’s one of the things we like to stress with the updates of the IUCN Red List. You can quickly go into the doom and gloom of how many threatened species there are, but there are good cases of species recovery where conservation action has really turned things around.

A classic example from the U.S. is the Black-footed Ferret. That species declined almost to extinction by the late 1970s, and it was all because of what was happening to prairie dogs, the prey species for the ferret. There was a cry from the agricultural community to control prairie dogs, and as the number of prairie dogs went down, so did the ferrets. In 1981, a small population of Black-footed Ferrets was found in Wyoming. The Wyoming Fish & Wildlife department, working with U.S. Fish & Wildlife, took the animals into captivity for breeding and started a reintroduction program. They are doing very well. More than 6,000 animals have been born in captivity and there are 500 breeding adults in the wild. To go from nearly extinct to 500 breeding adults in the wild is fantastic turnaround. But it’s an ongoing effort because they have to make sure the essential habitats of the prairie dogs are maintained and not destroyed by the farming community. They have had to do a lot of outreach and education to communicate why the prairie dogs are important.

Black-footed Ferret (Mustela nigripes) ©Dean Biggins

To what do you attribute the success of that effort?

It was a concerted effort involving state and national-level government agencies, local conservation societies, individuals working in communities on the ground, and the agricultural community. All those sectors came together. Most of the cases where we have these turnarounds involve all of these different elements: usually some kind of government level, the NGO level, and the community organization – all working together in harmony for the good of the species and the local community.

Once a species begins to rebound, does the IUCN get involved in supporting long-term recovery and survival?

Yes, we do. We have a network of over 120 species Specialist Groups who get directly involved with conservation actions on the ground. We have also recently established a funding mechanism within IUCN called the Save our Species fund, or S.O.S. The motto is “Save our species. Save ourselves.” Money was given by the World Bank and other donor agencies to help set up this fund. People can apply to do species conservation projects on the ground. This fund is directly aimed at highly threatened species on the IUCN Red List for which action is needed on the ground to improve their status. Another similar funding mechanism like this is the Mohammed bin Zyed Species Conservation Fund which also uses the IUCN Red List to guide its investments in species conservation.

It is my understanding that the effects of climate change are putting pressure on biodiversity. Are there any threatened/endangered plant or animal species that might actually benefit from climate change in the future? Are there instances in which the environmental effects of climate change will create more favorable conditions for threatened/endangered species?

We know that there are many species which are not threatened at the moment, which would probably benefit from the impacts of climate change. In general, the more common and often weedy species tend to be more adaptable to these types of changes. They’ll be able to spread and move northward as the climate changes. Certain threatened species which are fairly mobile and adaptable will be able to respond more quickly and easily than species which are immobile and/or have very specific habitat requirements. We have noticed that some of the threatened butterflies are moving further north from southern Europe. Some of changes in the ranges of these species may be detected quite easily, but it is very early in the process to know what the long-term effects are going to be. The big issue is whether there will be suitable habitat for them to move into as the climate changes.

In 2012, there was an article in the journal Science about how southern ocean wind patterns are changing as a result of climate change, and that may be helping albatrosses to find food more rapidly. Albatrosses are all highly threatened. Bird Life International are working with partners all over the world to try to turn the situation around with albatrosses. A couple of the species actually improved in status in the last (2013.2) update of the IUCN Red List. In theses instances, the introduced predators have successfully been eradicated from the islands where the albatrosses breed and BirdLife and their partners have managed to implement measures to  minimize the impact of long line fisheries, because long line trawling is one of the main threats to albatrosses. It is not clear in the case of the species downlisted if the observed recovery was also linked to positive impacts of climate change on albatross feeding; it is hard to tease  such cause- and-effect relationships out at this stage.

You have been with the IUCN for 15 years. Looking at today’s IUCN Red List versus the IUCN Red List of 15 years ago, what species have become most imperiled during the last decade? Which species have rebounded most impressively?

In terms of most imperiled, I can tell you two different stories. In 2001 we started our first attempt to look at the state of amphibian species around the world. When we released the results in 2004, we were quite horrified at the extent to which frogs were threatened with extinction.  We knew that many frogs had just disappeared or had severely reduced populations, but no one could explain why. It took a few years of research to determine that a fungal pathogen known as chytrid fungus, likely operating in synergy with climate change, was wiping out whole frog populations from many parts of the world. That was an incredible discovery, and it prompted a massive attempt to try and get as many of those frogs that were likely to be impacted by the fungus into captive breeding situations until a solution to the chytrid fungus could be found and they could be returned to the wild. This was a real revelation to us: that there are new and novel diseases that appear from nowhere, strike a species, and knock the population quite heavily and often in a short space of time.

A similar story happened in Southeast Asia, where we had 98% declines in vulture populations. There were three or four species involved, and it happened very quickly—within five or six years. It was initially thought that a disease was involved, as it was with the frog story. BirdLife and their partners conducted research and found out that it was the impact of a veterinary drug called diclofenac, which is an anti-inflammatory used in Southeast Asia for treating livestock. In that part of the world, when a cow dies, you leave it out in the field for the vultures to come eat it. By the time the vultures would eat the carcass, the drug was so concentrated that it was lethal to them.  In that case, BirdLife and their partners used a combination of captive breeding and reintroduction to try and get the numbers back up again, and they got the governments involved to pass laws to prevent the use of that drug. They have passed the laws, and it will be a slow process to get everybody to stop using diclofenec . They are trying to provide alternative drugs that are cheaper and more readily available. Vulture populations are now beginning to show signs of recovery. The same situation is now potentially repeating itself in Europe and Africa.

White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus)©Vibhu Prakash

What does it feel like to be able to tell those stories? Your work must be incredibly rewarding.

It is extremely rewarding and humbling. When I go to workshops with our experts and I see how much knowledge they have in their heads, it really is phenomenal. It is a huge privilege to get to share that. Trying to fuel that into something you can pass on to the rest of the world, and telling those stories to other people so they will be aware and do something about it is incredibly rewarding.

In your opinion, what impact has the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) had on the conservation of species worldwide?

The CBD is quite complex, as it is dealing with the whole range of biodiversity. It is a strong convention in terms of getting so many different parties together to agree on common targets and then set agendas for the conservation community.  The CBD had a set of targets to achieve by 2010 and unfortunately, they failed to achieve those.  There was a lot of soul searching after that and at the 2010 meeting of the parties in Nagoya, Japan, they came up with a new strategic plan for biodiversity conservation. [The mission of the plan is to “take effective and urgent action to halt the loss of biodiversity in order to ensure that by 2020 ecosystems are resilient and continue to provide essential services, thereby securing the planet’s variety of life, and contributing to human well-being, and poverty eradication.”] The delegates at the meeting pushed very hard, and came up with a new set of 20 targets, known as the Aichi Targets for 2020. These targets address all of the different issues related to biodiversity conservation, and Target 12 is a key one for the Red List. [Target 12: “By 2020 the extinction of known threatened species has been prevented and their conservation status, particularly of those most in decline, has been improved and sustained.”] All of the targets are very ambitious—probably over-ambitious, but it’s better to strive for the sky and see how much we can achieve.

Under the CBD, countries are supposed to adopt those same targets on a national scale, and by adding up what each country is doing, and working with the global conservation community, they hope to reach the global targets.  There is reporting happening at different levels, and the CBD is moving in the right direction. There are, however, some areas where they haven’t been able to achieve the breakthrough many people would like to see, particularly with issues like financing mechanisms and protocols for access and benefit sharing.  Overall they are making good progress. We just have to keep working hard to ensure we stay focused and on track as we move toward 2020, when everyone has to report back on how they’ve done with the targets. There is ongoing debate about what indicators are used for the different targets. The IUCN Red List could be used, to some degree, for measuring progress with at least 13 of the targets, but it has only been adopted as a unit of measure for seven of the targets. The identification of threatened species plays a key role in tracking progress toward the Aichi Targets.

Do you believe that the recent arguments put forth by Peter Kareiva and Michelle Marvier, What is Conservation Science? (BioScience, 2012) suggesting that ecologists and conservationists have grossly overestimated the fragility of nature and that the loss of species can be inconsequential to ecosystem function, are worthy of consideration? 

The authors are not saying that we don’t have to worry about conservation. They are just pointing out that nature can be surprisingly resilient, and yes, we do recognize that. That’s the thing about the Red List approach. With the Red List, we are saying the species have a certain probability of going extinct within a certain time period. But there is also a probability that they won’t go extinct. That’s part of nature’s resilience, and so we do get surprised every now and then.

You can’t just say species are resilient, and that we don’t need to worry about them. You can’t be complacent. You have to take action where it is required and this is what Kareiva and Marvier also argue.

Let’s talk about the connections between humans and endangered species. Should we be saving species from extinction merely because it is morally the right thing to do, regardless of their perceived importance to humans or their contributions to a well-functioning ecosystem?

The moral case is a strong argument for species conservation, but you have to weigh it against all the other arguments. Species are useful to people for all sorts of purposes: food, medicine, ecosystem services, etc. Maintaining species for the sake of the species is certainly a valid argument, but it’s difficult when countries are grappling with lots of conflicting demands on their resources, hence their value to people often takes precedence.

When you have massive over population and you’re trying to deal with poverty issues, you have to balance that with species conservation. You may say, “Investing all this money in this species will not save it, and that despite all the efforts and best intentions that it will carry on moving towards extinction, so let’s stop.” That has been a subject of a few debates here in the U.K.  The Zoological Society of London, for example, recently held a symposium which posed the question “When is enough, enough?” i.e., when do you say, “That’s it; we’re not going to spend any more dollars on that species. We’re going to let it go, and if it goes extinct, tough.” That is a very difficult call for anybody to make, but I suspect we’re going to be faced with that situation more and more in the coming years. We as a conservation community need to ensure that enough is done early enough so that we are not faced with too many of these difficult choices.

Based on your experience, what percent of the world’s human population recognizes the link between the fate of endangered species and that of their own?

I talk to a lot of people about this, even my own family. I’d say the vast majority of people do not realize that link. They don’t see how interconnected everything is on the planet. An individual species extinction might not affect you as a person, but eventually, if we lose enough other species, you will feel the impact. We don’t know when that tipping-point will be and what consequences that will have for all of us. The more we can do to keep all species alive and functional, the better for all of us. I’m amazed at how many people say they love nature, but have no realization of how connected they really are to the survival of species.

Lear’s Macaw (Anodorhynchus leari) ©Ciro Albano, NE Brazil Birding

You must encounter so many situations where the protection of a threatened species is seemingly in conflict with a society’s culture, economy, etc….true? 

There is a great story about the Lear’s Macaw, a species of parrot in South America. They are beautiful birds, and were well-known in the commercial pet trade, but no one really knew where they came from.  In 1978, the first wild population of them was discovered in northeastern Bahia in Brazil. Clearly the traders knew where to find these birds. They were being very secretive about it, trapping the birds and exporting them to the rest of the world, despite them being listed on CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) Appendix I , which means absolutely no trade whatsoever is allowed for that species.  To combat this illegal trade, [conservationists] built awareness programs to tell people what was happening, and that trapping the birds was illegal and should not be allowed. But the local people were actually encouraging the trappers because the parrots were eating their maize. So the various agencies that were working on this had to come up with a scheme to compensate farmers for the maize that was eaten by the birds. Once the farmers were compensated and their livelihoods were secure, they felt responsible to conserve the birds and stop the traders.

Once you have the local community on your side, it can be a win-win situation. There were about 50  birds in 1978 and now there are over 1000. It has been a fantastic recovery in quite a short term, but it took considerable effort to get all of the different elements in the right place to ensure a successful outcome. Just having the legal framework was not enough.

Many of our readers work to protect threatened species at the project or site scale during planning or design.  In these situations, the protection can often be regarded as an “obstacle” to project success.  Based on your experience, what are some of the proven keys to protecting species in situations like that in a way that is embraced as the kind of win-win situation you just described.

The IUCN has amazing convening power in bringing together different parties– governments, NGOs, corporate sector, and local communities—and then mediating between them all.

An example of where we have successfully done this is in the waters around Sakhalin Island in Eastern Russia. These waters are of critical significance to the conservation of the Western Gray Whale, as the only known feeding ground for this population lies in these waters. The area is also rich in oil and gas deposits and over the last 10-15 years there have been growing attempts to exploit these resources. Hence it was inevitable that a conflict would arise. To address this threat IUCN has been working with Sakhalin Energy Investment Company to see how best to minimize and mitigate the impacts of its Sakhalin II operations on Gray Whales in the vicinity of Sakhalin Island. The results so far have been extremely positive. But it’s an ongoing effort, because we have to make sure everybody does what they say they are going to do plus it was realized that any comprehensive conservation management initiative must consider the full range of threats to the Western Gray Whale. Hence IUCN is now developing a rangewide conservation initiative for this population which takes into account not only the threats in the vicinity of Sakhalin Island, but also the threats across the entire geographic range of this population.

I imagine the IUCN cannot come to the aid of everyone.  So are you suggesting that readers who find themselves in the situations where species protection is viewed as a project obstacle should reach out to their local conservation NGOs to play that brokering role?

Exactly. There are so many good conservation NGOs who can and should engage with the corporate sector to build those relationships.

When it comes to the world’s mammals, I read that the most significant threat is habitat loss. Obviously conservation is critical, but what about ecological restoration? Do you believe ecological restoration has a role to play in saving species from extinctions?

The loss of habitat is the number one threat to virtually every species on the Red List. Hence ecological restoration is one of the tools in our conservation toolbox.

Do you have any final words for Leaf Litter readers?

One of the key things we are trying to do with the IUCN Red List is to provide decision-makers with the necessary information to secure the web of life. But sadly people, especially politicians and business leaders and even the general public, are more interested in paying attention to the economy and dollars. So we have to use the IUCN Red List to demonstrate the close links that exist between species and human livelihoods and what the potential impacts will be to people if those species are lost; hence our promotion of  the notion of “nature for nature; and nature for people.”

Species are the building blocks of life. The loss of any species diminishes the quality of our lives and our basic economic security. By saving species we save biodiversity and the natural ecosystems that provide the natural resources we need to live; nature is at the heart of a green economy. The IUCN Red List, as one of the measures of the state of biodiversity, is telling us how our green economy is doing or not doing. For the IUCN Red List to become a more complete “Barometer of Life,” investment is needed to increase the number of experts trained to carry out Red List assessments, to significantly increase the number of species being assessed each year; and to carry out regular reassessments of species groups.  Enabling the IUCN Red List to reach its full potential would, from an economic perspective, be one of the best investments for the good of humanity.

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