With Christmas over and a few days to go before people gather to party and wish each other a happy 2010, the future looks less than bright for many of the world’s animal species and ecosystems.
Exotic frogs and toads are dying out in the jungles of Latin America, apparent victims of global warming in what might be a harbinger of one of the worst waves of extinction since the dinosaurs. Accelerating extinctions would derail a United Nations goal of "a significant reduction in the current rate of biodiversity loss" by 2010.
“We are facing an extinction crisis,” the International Union for Conservation of Nature IUCN warned this week. It said targets to reduce the loss of biodiversity had fallen far short of what had been hoped for, and the effects of this could prove devastating.
“At risk of extinction worldwide are 21 percent of the world’s mammals, one in three amphibians, one in eight birds and 27 percent of reef-building corals,” IUCN said in a statement issued ahead of the launch of the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity on January 11.
The loss of complex natural diversity, which underpinned all life on the planet, was a serious threat to humankind, both now and in the future.
“Biodiversity is the basis of all life on earth. We need practical action and supportive policies to conserve species, manage and restore ecosystems, including protected areas and the wider landscape, and promote the sustainable use of natural resources,” it said.
Biologists have long warned an extinction crisis is looming. They list deforestation and other habitat destruction, hunting and poaching, the introduction of non-native species, and pollution and climate change as among the major reasons for the extinction of species. "We are facing an extinction crisis," said Anne Larigauderie, head of Paris-based Diversitas which promotes research into life on the planet.
She estimated the rate of loss of all species was now 10-100 times faster than little-understood rates from fossil records. The task of gauging the exact rate is complicated by the fact that no one knows exactly how many species exist.
Many scientists say global warming -- widely blamed on burning fossil fuels in factories, power plants and vehicles -- is adding to other human threats including destruction of habitats from expanding cities, deforestation and pollution.
For now, amphibians such as frogs, toads, salamanders and newts are on the front-line -- they live both in water and on land and have a porous skin sensitive to changes in temperature and moisture. A skin fungus is also decimating amphibians.
In coming decades, threats could widen to creatures ranging from polar bears to tropical butterflies. A few species might benefit, such as forests expanding north to the Arctic.
"We're probably looking at one of the worst spasms of extinction in millions of years, even without climate change," said Lee Hannah, an expert at Conservation International. "But we have it in our ability to do something about it."
"Many species are already moving right to the brink," said Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the "Red List" publication of endangered species at the World Conservation Union.
Meanwhile in Britain Labour/Tories have ignored species loss and animal cruelty, but focused on a more minority issue, Fox hunting. The Hunting Act was launched in 2005 after hundreds of hours of valuable parliamentary time, but has only resulted in a handful of prosecutions, and it has not stopped any hunts. The new rules allow for the hunting of a fox's scent with dogs but not the killing of the animal. The ban made the use of dogs to kill prey illegal, basically, riders could still follow hounds on horseback as hounds chased the fox, but when the fox is found, all but two dogs must be restrained. Those two dogs aren't allowed to kill the fox, as before, but may flush it out so that the hunter kills it with a gun! There have been some "accidents" in the years after the ban; a pro-hunting group known as the Countryside Alliance warned that more foxes were killed post-ban than when hunting was legal [source: BBC]
Using the Freedom of Information Act, Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire police were asked about the enforcement of the act since it was introduced. Unsurprisingly, none of the forces have prosecuted a hunt or individual under the act and nationwide there have been just nine prosecutions of traditional hunts since the act came into force in February 2005.
This would suggest that either the law is not being regularly broken or the police are not enforcing it.
A recently report from the Association of Chief Police Officers acknowledged that the act was regarded as “unenforceable” by many. Forces accept that there is an “intelligence gap” when it comes to fox hunting. There are a number of exemptions under the act, which allow hunts to take place and usually we find that hunts are perfectly legal. “This is widely recognised as a challenging piece of legislation in enforcement terms. Hunts mostly take place on private land, which we cannot proactively patrol. We can only respond if we receive a specific complaint, which means that we can only police this reactively based on intelligence. According to the Countryside Alliance, hunting is now more widespread than ever before, albeit in an adapted form. At a recent newcomers event, 3,000 people turned out nationwide to try hunting for the first time.
Its a bit of a dog whistle issue for traditional Lab/Tory voters, and is a way of igniting their core supporters. I am agaist hunting for sport, but to focus on this and ignore the far more serious species loss is shameful. Also in terms of animal cruelty, keeping chickens in tiny cages . Nonetheless, this decision will allow the factory farming of chickens to continue unchecked. Labour have introduced new regulation but it does not embrace the high welfare standards called for by campaigners. A recent Defra funded study shows that over a quarter of broiler chickens suffer from painful leg disorders, yet they have ignored their own findings. Over 40% of all UK MPs supported EDM 581, calling for clear and honest labelling on chicken meat and urging the UK Government to improve the welfare of chickens reared for meat. But this was not enough to get some decent legislation.
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