One fifth of all invertebrates are now considered threatened by extinction according to a report published by the Zoological Society of London last week. As a category invertebrates are of great significance – ranging from insects to jellyfish, they make up approximately 98% of all animal species.
Bolinopsis infundibulum, a carnivorous and phosphorescent comb jelly, NOAA
The study looked at over 12,000 species, and was completed in conjunction with the IUCN. The accuracy of the findings have been questioned by some due to the small sample size used; about 1 million invertebrate species are currently known, and studies suggest only 14% of species have been discovered.
As the first study of its kind, however, the report helps to give an overall idea of the status of a group that comprises almost all of Earths animals. Freshwater species were found to be particularly vulnerable, as were less mobile species. The trends revealed by these disparities will assist scientists in targeting species and areas of particular concern. Habitat loss, pollution and invasive species were listed as the top threats to species survival. Although these factors have been the subject of much concern already, clarifying their level of threat helps to form a scientific basis for future action. The results are similar to those of studies on vertebrates and plants, which also found a fifth of species to be at risk.
Pichu, a female red panda (Ailurus fulgens) at a conservation park in southern Scotland, is set to be part of captive breeding efforts following the introduction of a new possible mate. Ruben, a young male, has been relocated from Paignton Zoo in Devon, to accompany the previously alone Pichu at Galloway Wildlife Conservation Park.
Breeding programmes are an important part of conservation planning for species with low population numbers, such as the red panda of which less than 10,000 adults are believed to exist. This allows scientists to monitor population growth and breeding behaviour, as well as protecting vulnerable mothers and young. Captive breeding programmes have been successful in protecting a wide variety of species from extinction, the Arabian oryx (Oryx leucoryx) and Przewalski’s horse (Equus ferus przewalskii) have been reintroduced to the wild as a result. But they are not without their challenges. The giant panda (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) is famous for its apparent loss of interest in breeding once captured; whilst organisations such as the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) must manage inbreeding problems and sustain genetic diversity.
Red Panda, Ailurus fulgens – Brunswyk
Endemic to the Himalayas, red panda populations began to decline as a result of deforestation and harvesting for fur. Livestock trample the bamboo on which red pandas feed, and as human development spreads, panda populations become increasingly isolated. Overall, a decline of ~40% has been estimated for populations in China over the past 50 years. The IUCN has listed red pandas as vulnerable, and trading has been banned by CITES. Although protected in all of its range, conservation efforts vary: population estimates are unavailable for Burma and Bhutan where they have been known to be confused with civets, and poaching still occurs.
Red pandas have shown adaptability to living in captivity, where ~800 individuals are currently held. Breeding rates are high across many zoos, the Padmaja Naidu Himalayan Zoological Park (Darjeeling, India) has successfully released four captive bred pandas to the wild, whilst many more have been born in captivity.