Many of the most endangered animals in the world are failing to receive any protection from the global network of wildlife parks established to conserve threatened species.
An international study has concluded that a shift in international conservation planning is needed if hundreds of rare species are to be saved from extinction. The analysis found more than 300 critically endangered animals, and about 500 other less-threatened species, have no protection at all over any part of their natural range.
Ana Rodrigues of the Centre for Applied Biodiversity Science in Washington DC, who led the study, said that a complete overhaul in the way protected areas were established and managed was needed. "We have found that the global network is far from complete. It needs to be expanded but expanded strategically into the areas of the world that need it most," Dr Rodrigues said.
About 11.5 per cent of the planet's land surface receives some form of wildlife protection, ranging from draconian measures involving the complete exclusion of humans, to areas where there are weak regulations on what sort of human activity can be carried out. The study, published in the journal Nature, mapped these protected zones and compared the maps with the territorial limits of threatened species.
"This is the first assessment of the global coverage of protected areas," said Dr Rodrigues, who worked with 21 scientists from 15 organisations involved in species conservation from around the world.
"This study is only the tip of the iceberg. As more comprehensive data becomes available, they will reveal many more gaps in coverage by the global protected area network," she said.
The scientists compared the land area covered by 100,000 wildlife parks and other protected areas with the ranges of 11,633 species from four groups - mammals, birds, amphibians and turtles and tortoises. Of those deemed to be the most threatened "critically endangered" species, the natural ranges of at least 300 failed to overlap with any protected areas. More than 237 endangered and 267 vulnerable species did not live in or near a protected zone.
Dr Rodrigues said that wildlife parks and protected areas needed to be expanded into tropical areas that were rich in biodiversity. "The reason is because these regions have a disproportionate amount of biodiversity and that they need a disproportionate investment in biodiversity," she said.
Gustavo Fonseca of Conservation International, and a professor of zoology at the Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil, said that targeting species-preservation measures now needed higher priority. He said: "Protecting more than 10 per cent of the planet's land surface is a major conservation achievement, but this study proves that, no matter how appealing arbitrary percentage targets might be from a political standpoint, we should focus specifically on those places with the greatest concentrations of threatened and endemic species."
Of the 4,735 species of mammals analysed in the study, some 258 were identified as "gap species", meaning that they have no protection over any part of their ranges. Critically endangered mammals with no protection included the Comoro flying fox from the Comoros Islands in the Indian Ocean and the Handley's slender mouse opossum from Colombia.
When the scientists analysed the data covering 5,454 species of amphibians, they found that 913 of them did not fall into any protected area. Of those, 411 are threatened with extinction.
LIFE ON THE EDGE: SPECIES MOST AT RISK
A total of 258 mammals are found to be unprotected even though 149 of them are threatened, including the critically endangered Comoro flying fox (left) from the Comoros Island in the Indian Ocean
Out of 913 unprotected species, more than 400 are threatened. Critically endangered amphibians with no protection include colourful frogs such as the harlequin mantella and the black-eared mantella.
Some 1,171 threatened bird species in the world were analysed and 232 were identified as living in areas with no conservation initiatives. Those on the critically endangered list included the yellow-eared parrot of the Colombian Andes and the Caerulean Paradise flycatcher found on Indonesia's Sangihe Island.
Turtles and tortoises
Of the 273 studied, some 21 lived in areas with no protection and 12 of these are threatened. Critically endangered species included the Roti island snake-necked turtle and the Burmese star tortoise from Myanmar.Reuse content