Tue, Mar 09, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Eighth of all bird species face extinction: biologists

THE GUARDIAN , JOHANNESBURG

More than 1,000 bird species face extinction because of an alarming and accelerating loss of biodiversity, a new study warned yesterday.

Environmental degradation could wipe out 1,211 species, an eighth of the world's total, according to the report by BirdLife International, an umbrella conservation body.

Expanded farming and forestry and the introduction of alien species are cited as major threats to African species.

Glimmers of good news, such as the rediscovery on a Japanese island of the short-tailed albatross thought to be extinct, fail to lift the gloom from the report, State of the World's Birds 2004.

Collating in one document for the first time all existing research about the status and distribution of the world's birds, it said 129 species had been classified extinct in the past 500 years.

"The state of the world's birds presents firm evidence that we are losing birds and other biodiversity at an alarming and ever increasing rate," said Michael Rands, director of BirdLife.

Half of Africa's important bird areas are under threat, mostly from farmers and loggers, stripping habitats of species such as the Anjouan Scops-owl and Otus capnodes.

Biologists worry about the implications for other mammals and animals, since birds are "indicator species" of the state of the environment.

"The decline of bird populations in many parts of the world is of considerable concern, indicating a fundamental flaw in the way that we treat our environment," said the report, which was released to coincide with yesterday's start of a week-long BirdLife International World Conservation Conference in Durban, South Africa.

The report found that the introduction of new species by man -- either by design or accident -- threatened two-thirds of island species. Rats and cats, for example, can wreak havoc on bird populations that evolved away from predators.

A rare success story for nest protection and supplementary feeding was the black robin, endemic to the Chatham Islands, New Zealand, which recovered from just five individual birds in 1980 to around 250.

Research published last year said at least 43 rare species in Africa were found solely in areas with no protection, leaving them at the mercy of farmers and logging companies.

Four countries accounted for 90 percent of the continent's unprotected sites: Djibouti and Eritrea, on the Horn of Africa, the Comoros, a three-island nation in the Indian Ocean, and Sao Tome e Principe, a two-island nation in the Gulf of Guinea.

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