Fishing, logging, mining, agriculture and other activities to satisfy our growing appetite for resources are pushing wild species towards extinction. (This report has been updated with corrections. – Editor)
A species of Malaysian microsnail has been declared “extinct” in the latest Red List of Threatened Species released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Plectostoma sciaphilum, known only from a single limestone hill in Pahang, has disappeared as the outcrop which it inhabited, Bukit Panching near Kuantan, was quarried in 2007.
According to the IUCN, surveys by scientist Liew Thor-Seng and his colleagues within suitable habitat around the last known site failed to locate any specimens of this species, hence it is considered to have been endemic to the site. Recent survey work has confirmed that this species is now extinct.
The microsnail lived in leaf litter on the forest floor and was first described in 1952. Many Plectostoma species display high endemism, occurring only on a single hill and nowhere else. The tiny snails are unique, by having very irregularly coiled and ornamented shells.
The global inventory of species also lists a newly-discovered microsnail, Charopa lafargei, as critically endangered as its limestone refuge in Perak is earmarked for quarrying by Lafarge Malaysia.
Described only this year, this species is restricted to Gunung Kanthan near Ipoh and is named after the mining company as its continued existence will depend in large part on the actions of the mining multinational.
The latest Red List cites 22,413 species as threatened with extinction – an addition of 310 species from its last update earlier this year. Among the new species classified as threatened are the Pacific bluefin tuna, Chinese pufferfish, American eel, Chinese cobra, black grass-dart butterfly and giant east Usambara blade-horned chameleon.
The IUCN also lists the St Helena giant earwig (Labidura herculeana) – the world’s largest known earwig attaining a length of up to 80mm – as extinct. Previously found in a protected area on St Helena, a volcanic island in the South Atlantic Ocean, the insect was last seen in 1967. Since the early 1960s, its habitat has been degraded by the removal of nearly all shelter-providing surface stones for construction purposes. Increased predator pressures from mice, rats and invasive predatory invertebrates also contributed to the earwig’s extinction.
The Pacific bluefin tuna (Thunnus orientalis) has moved from the least concern category to vulnerable, which means that it is now threatened with extinction. The species is heavily fished for sushi and sashimi markets. Most of the fish caught are juveniles which have not yet had a chance to reproduce and the population is estimated to have declined by 19% to 33% over the past 22 years.
A population decline of 99.99% over the past 40 years due to over-exploitation pushed the Chinese pufferfish (Takifugu chinensis) to the critically endangered ranking. A popular food fish in Japan, it is among the top four fugu species consumed as sashimi.
The American eel (Anguilla rostrata), is now endangered due to myriad reasons: barriers to migration; climate change; parasites; pollution; habitat loss and commercial harvest.
“Each update of the IUCN Red List makes us realise that our planet is constantly losing its incredible diversity of life, largely due to our destructive actions to satisfy our growing appetite for resources,” says IUCN director-general Julia Marton-Lefèvre.
As nearly half of the newly assessed species occur within protected areas, the IUCN calls for better management of these places to stop further biodiversity decline.
“We have scientific evidence that protected areas can play a central role in reversing this trend. Experts warn that threatened species poorly represented in protected areas are declining twice as fast as those which are well represented. Our responsibility is to increase the number of protected areas and ensure that they are effectively managed so that they can contribute to saving our planet’s biodiversity,” says Marton-Lefèvre.
For the record
The Star Online articles "A Malaysian snail goes extinct; over 22,000 other species on the brink" and "Going, going, gone: Malaysia's wildlife loses battle against extinction" (published on Nov 22 and Dec 22, respectively) reported on the extinction of a microsnail because of quarrying of Bukit Panching in Pahang. YTL Cement Bhd has clarified that Bukit Panching was not quarried by it, as reported in the original articles. We apologise for the error.