Study finds more than half of all non-flying mammals are unprotected from extinction

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In 2010, 196 nations of the world (including the United States) came together in Aichi, Japan to address the planet’s looming endangered species crisis. A ten-year plan for the protection and conservation of nature divided into twenty individual objectives has been established by the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Fast forward to 2020: The world has failed to meet a single goal set out in the agreement, except one: to protect at least 17% of all terrestrial ecosystems and inland waters.

Achieving this milestone has sparked eyes on a new prize: protecting 30% of Earth’s land and seas by 2030. But even that effort may not be enough to prevent the extinction of thousands of animals, a study has found. published Monday in the newspaper. PNAS. Scientists in the United States, Britain and Italy have found that protected areas around the world, such as national parks, wilderness areas and nature reserves, which are the pillars for safeguarding biodiversity, are too small and not interconnected enough to guarantee the long-term survival of many species.

As a result, researchers estimate that between 44 and 65 percent of all non-flying mammals are unprotected and potentially threatened in some way.

The new paper examined whether current protected areas were resilient enough to sustain animal life over the next 100 years. Using computer models, the researchers estimated the potential population size of an individual species in a specific protected area and how big that community would need to grow to last. Of the 3,800 land mammals analyzed, which represent approximately 70% of all mammals, between 1,700 and 2,500 species were found to be underprotected by their protected areas. These animals were mainly found in the most biodiverse regions of the world such as Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa.

“[These regions] all had both more mammalian species underprotected and a higher proportion of their total mammalian species underprotected than other regions, with the exception of Oceania, which also had high levels of underprotection,” the authors wrote in their paper.

The researchers also found that many of the mammals currently listed as threatened by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) are vastly underprotected by current protected areas. This included not only notable large animals like the African elephant and rhinoceros (both poached for their ivory), but also smaller ones like the African wild dog – threatened by habitat loss and poaching – and the Sri Lankan shrew, also threatened by habitat loss.

The Sri Lankan shrew – the smallest mammal by weight in the world.

Trebol-a / Wikimedia Commons

More than 1,000 animals of all sizes that are not considered threatened by the IUCN may also be under-protected. This includes the American bison, howler monkeys, the volcano shrew native to central Africa, and the short-faced mole native to China.

“Many of these small species in particular are poorly studied, lack detailed demographic data, and are unlikely to be the focus of current conservation efforts,” the authors wrote, explaining that if these animals begin to become extinct due to factors such as habitat loss, it may be too late to protect them once we finally decide to take them into account.

We may think that an obvious solution to the problem is to add more land to a protected area, prevent deforestation and slow human development. That would certainly help, but the researchers say the economic trade-off could be a tough sell for low- and middle-income countries that don’t receive international aid.

Instead of focusing solely on incorporating more land, the researchers suggest that conservation efforts should involve strategic programs that identify the best locations for protected areas. These areas need to be well managed and connected so animals can move around and be less vulnerable to natural disasters, disease outbreaks and, most importantly, climate change, a well-established threat to the planet’s biodiversity.

These efforts could be enough to halt the extinction of many species on the chopping block over the next century. But time is running out.

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