for National Geographic News
A conservation effort announced today aims to protect some of the world's oddest and most overlooked animal species.
The Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) program, led by the Zoological Society of London, focuses on animals that have unique evolutionary histories and face immediate risk of extinction.
The project combined existing data on species relatedness and threat status to develop a list of a hundred top animals.
In 2007 the project will focus on ten high priority species from that list "with potential for slipping through the gaps without notice," said Samuel Turvey, a project scientist with the zoological society.
"Of the top 100 species which we're focusing on, more than 70 percent receive either no conservation attention or extremely limited attention," Turvey said.
The highest priority species, the Yangtze River dolphin, may already be extinct, he added.
Turvey recently visited China to survey the entire known range of the dolphin, which diverged from all other river dolphins 20 million years ago, and failed to locate any. (Related story: "China's Rare River Dolphin Now Extinct, Experts Announce" [December 14, 2006].)
"It appears to have died out because there wasn't any conservation action done in time," he said.
"For 20 years conservationists recommended things that needed to happen that no one ever acted on," he added. "We need to make sure that what happened to the Yangtze River dolphin never happens to any other species."
EDGE will raise awareness of the animals and their plights, fund research studying the species in their natural habitats, and then help execute conservation plans.
Ten Targeted Animals
The Zoological Society of London's focal species for 2007 include the following animals:
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