National Geographic News
An extinction crisis continues to ravage the planet's animals and plants, according to the new Red List of Threatened Species released today. (See photos of animals on the new list.)
The elevated threat level has even sparked a Dow Jones-like index of endangered species, designed to spot troubled species before it's too late. But, despite the inevitable comparisons to the U.S. financial crisis, there appears to be no bailout plan in sight for threatened life-forms, experts say.
There are 44,838 species on the 2008 Red List, compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Thirty-eight percent of Red List species are close to extinction, with 25 percent of all mammals on the verge of oblivion (full story: "One in Four Mammals Headed for Extinction, Study Says" [October 6, 2008]).
The Red List is an annual "health check of the planet," IUCN director general Julia Marton-Lefèvre said.
Species unlucky enough to make the list are grouped into eight categories, from "least concern" (low risk of extinction) to "critically endangered" (extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the near term).
"If you look ahead a hundred years to our grandchildren and great grandchildren, how are they going to measure whether we were successful in our conservation efforts?" Russell Mittermeier, president of Conservation International, asked a briefing at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona.
"Perhaps the most important basis is whether we really saved the full range of animals and plants and everything else out there."
Heightened Threat Levels
Among species whose status is downgraded on the new Red List, some are falling victim to disease, such as the Tasmanian devil.
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