One in Six European Mammals at Risk of Extinction

BRUSSELS, Belgium, May 22, 2007 (ENS) - Nearly one in every six species of European mammals is now threatened with extinction, finds the first assessment of all European mammals, requested by the European Commission and carried out by the World Conservation Union, IUCN. The findings were released today to mark International Biodiversity Day.

The IUCN assessment shows that 27 percent of all European mammals have declining populations, and trends for a further 33 percent are unknown. Only eight percent of mammal species were identified as increasing.

IUCN Director-General Julia Marton-Lefèvre said, "This new assessment proves that many European mammals are declining at an alarming rate. However, we still have the power to reverse that trend, as the case of the European bison, which was brought back from extinction, clearly shows."

A family of European bison thrives in a Polish forest. (Photo courtesy Polonia Today)
The European bison was nearly extinct during the early 20th century when the last individuals were saved in zoos. As a result of reintroductions and introductions, there are now some 1,800 bison occurring in free-ranging and semi-free herds in Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Russian Federation, Ukraine, and Slovakia.

Europe is rich in mammal diversity on land, including elk and lynx, bear, wolf and wild boar, red deer and roe deer, beaver and otter, mink, fox, ermine and wild horse. There are hedgehogs, porcupines, hares, lemmings, weasels, bats, moles and shrews, squirrels, mice, mongoose, and raccoons.

But while some 15 percent, or almost one sixth, of mammals are threatened in Europe, the situation of marine mammals is even grimmer - 22 percent are classified as Threatened with extinction.

The true number is likely to be even higher, as almost 44 percent of marine mammals were classified as Data Deficient due to missing information.

European marine mammals include six species of seals, walrus, and many whale species including, sperm, fin, humpback, minke, blue and sei whales. There are narwhals and 10 species of dolphins, in addition to the common porpoise.

"Although Europe is one of the best studied regions of the world, little of this knowledge has been brought together and until now, we have had no overall view of the conservation status of mammals across the continent," said Helen Temple of IUCN's Red List Unit, who led the assessment.

To fill that gap, the European Union commissioned the IUCN to assess all mammals of continental Europe against the IUCN Red List criteria in order to identify Europe's most threatened mammals and help set conservation priorities.

The assessment shows that Europe's mountains and the Balkan Peninsula are home to the greatest diversity of species. This wealth of biodiversity forms an arc which extends from the Pyrenees through the Alps towards the Carpathians and Rhodopes in southeastern Europe. The greatest concentration of threatened species was found in Bulgaria.

Within the European Union, six species have been classified as Critically Endangered. This category includes the Arctic fox and the European mink, which both have very small and declining populations.

Three Iberian lynx kittens being raised in captivity in Spain's Donana National Park. (Photo courtesy IUCN)
Only 150 Iberian lynx survive in the wild today and the Iberian lynx is considered the world's most endangered cat species.

The Mediterranean monk seal population has decreased to between 350 to 450 individuals, and this species is considered the world's most endangered seal.

The main threats to European mammals are habitat degradation and loss such as deforestation or wetland drainage, followed by pollution and over-harvesting.

For marine species, pollution and accidental mortality from fisheries by-catch or ship collisions are the main risks. These threats are most severe in the enclosed seas - the Baltic, Mediterranean and Black Sea.

European Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said, "The results of the report highlight the challenge we currently face to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2010, as European governments have promised."

There is another conservation success story, the IUCN found. The Alpine Ibex, endemic to Europe, was brought close to extinction in the 19th century by intensive hunting and was found only in the Gran Paradiso National Park in Italy.

This species is now classified as least concern due to extensive conservation efforts and re-introductions.

A Mediterranean monk seal in the waters of the Greek island of Zakynthos. (Photo courtesy
"It is clear that the full implementation of the Habitats Directive, which covers nearly all mammals found threatened in this assessment, is of utmost importance to protect Europe's species," Commissioner Dimas said.

To reverse the decline of Europe's mammals, the study recommends urgent implementation of the EU's nature conservation policies, to develop species action plans and integrate nature conservation into the EU's land use policies.

"Today is World Biodiversity Day," said Marton-Lefevre, "a unique chance to celebrate the diversity of life on Earth and to remember humans' fragile place within this complex web."

"As we celebrate this day we have to remember that our actions have brought many species to the brink of extinction," she said, "however we must also know that we have the power and opportunity to reverse this situation."