A new IUCN study evaluating the impact of conservation action on ungulates (hoofed mammals) shows that species have greatly benefited from measures taken to prevent their extinction. If the conservation actions that have already been implemented had not taken place, at least 148 ungulate species would have deteriorated by one IUCN Red List category, including six species that would now be listed as Extinct or Extinct in the Wild.
“We found that the overall decline in the conservation status of ungulates would have been nearly eight times worse than observed, were it not for conservation efforts,” says lead author Michael Hoffmann, Senior Scientist to the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC). “The decline would have been even greater if the contribution of private lands, which may be managed for purposes ranging from hunting to game viewing, are also factored in.”
The authors used a scenario-based analysis to quantify the difference conservation actions have made to the extinction risk of the world’s 235 recognized ungulate species. The study compares species’ observed conservation status (their IUCN Red List category) in 2008 with their estimated status under a hypothetical scenario in which all conservation efforts – everything from protected areas to conservation breeding programmes – ceased in 1996.
Several species, such as the Arabian Oryx (Oryx leucoryx) and Przewalski’s Horse (Equus ferus), would likely not exist in the wild today were it not for highly targeted conservation interventions. The last wild Arabian Oryx were killed by hunters in the 1970s but the species recovered thanks to extensive captive breeding and reintroduction efforts since the early 1980s and is now classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List. Similarly, Przewalski’s Horse would not have improved from its Extinct in the Wild status in 1996 to its current Endangered status if reintroductions and management had ceased.
Two iconic species, the Javan Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus) and the Greater One-horned Rhinoceros (R. unicornis) would likely be extinct today were it not for strict protection measures. The Javan Rhino was in fact extirpated from Viet Nam during the timeframe considered in this study due to the cessation of local efforts to save the species in the mid to late 2000s, but still survives in western Java, Indonesia.
However, the majority of species considered in this study benefited collaterally from broad conservation measures such as habitat protection. For example, establishment and successful management of protected areas have likely prevented a dramatic deterioration in the Red List status of the iconic Common Wildebeest (Connochaetes taurinus) from Least Concern to Critically Endangered. As the population of the Serengeti-Mara ecosystem accounts for the majority of the total population, the authors estimated that disruption of migration (e.g. through possible road construction) and increased hunting pressures would have led to steep population declines.
“Our results provide further evidence that conservation action is making a vital difference to trends in biodiversity,” says co-author Simon Stuart, IUCN SSC Chair. “Now we urgently need to increase and sustain investment in such efforts to achieve further improvements and to reach global biodiversity targets.”
The study, The difference conservation makes to extinction risk of the world’s ungulates, was published in the journal Conservation Biology and is available here.