Three central American frog species have gone extinct and many others may soon follow.
Their population has been ravaged by a fungus that is spreading faster because of climate change, conservationists say.
While updating its ‘red list’ of threatened species, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) warned that the world is seeing a worrying number of extinctions.
“The growing list of extinct species is a stark reminder that conservation efforts must urgently expand,” IUCN chief Bruno Oberle said in a statement.
Among the 31 species added to the “extinct” category in the latest Red List update was the often magnificently colourful Chiriqui harlequin frog and two other frog species once found in Central America.
The Chiriqui harlequin used to be extremely abundant in Costa Rica and western Panama, but suddenly began disappearing in the late 1980s. No specimens have been seen since 1996.
Twenty-two other frog species found across Central and South America have meanwhile now been listed as “critically endangered” — just one step from becoming extinct.
The main driver of the drastic declines in these species is chytridiomycosis disease, caused by the deadly chytrid fungus.
“Climate change seems to be helping the spread of the fungus and creating the right conditions for the disease to flourish, and that then is wiping out the frog populations,” Craig Hilton-Taylor, who heads IUCN’s Red List unit said.
Among the other species that have ceased to exist are all 17 freshwater fish endemic to Lake Lanao in the Philippines — 15 of them were declared extinct while two were listed as critically endangered and possibly extinct.
This ‘red list’ now includes 128,918 animal and plant species from around the world, including 35,765 threatened with extinction.
Among them is the tucuxi, a grey dolphin found in the Amazon river system, which has been moved to the “endangered” category after its population has been depleted by getting caught in fishing gear, the damming of rivers and pollution.
With this move, all four of the world’s freshwater dolphin species are now considered threatened, including the baiji, found in the Yangtze River, which is possibly extinct.
Hilton-Taylor meanwhile noted that 26 species showed signs of recovery.
Perhaps the most dramatic about-face was enjoyed by the European bison, which has moved up from “vulnerable” to “near threatened”.
Europe’s largest land mammal disappeared completely from the wild in the early 20th century, but thanks to continued breeding in zoos it could be reintroduced to the wild in the 1950s.
Intense conservation efforts have helped the population, found mainly in Poland, Belarus and Russia, to grow from around 1,800 individuals in 2003 to more than 6,200 last year, with 49 free-ranging bison herds across the continent.
“That is positive news and shows that conservation actions can turn things around,” Hilton-Taylor said.