According to the UN, a variety of animals, including turtles and fruit bats, are facing growing dangers as they migrate.
The initial assessment by the United Nations has revealed that over 20% of migratory species, which are protected globally, are at risk of becoming extinct. This includes almost all species of fish that have a nomadic lifestyle.
From humpback whales to Dalmatian pelicans, each year, billions of animals journey with the seasons over oceans, on land and in the skies. But a new report by the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) has found that many migratory species are at risk of disappearing, threatened by human pollution, the spread of invasive species and the climate crisis.
A study of protected migrating animals listed under the treaty revealed that 22% of the 1,189 species are in danger of extinction and 44% are experiencing declining populations, mainly due to habitat loss and overexploitation. The risk of extinction is particularly high for sharks, rays, and sturgeons on the list, with a 90% decline in populations since the 1970s.
During migration, animals can cover vast distances, resulting in some of the most remarkable journeys in nature. For example, a million wildebeest migrate from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the Maasai Mara in Kenya, while Pacific salmon travel upriver across the west coast of the US to breed.
Gorillas and nearly half of all turtles covered by the convention are in danger of disappearing, according to the analysis, while those experiencing declines include bar-tailed godwits, which fly more than 8,000 miles nonstop between Alaska and Australia, the straw-coloured fruit bat, which undertakes the largest mammal migration, across Africa, and the critically endangered European eel.
The summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, where governments are meeting to discuss ways to safeguard migratory species, coincides with the release of this report. Amy Fraenkel, executive secretary, expressed concern to the Guardian about the concerning rise in extinction risk, but also highlighted potential actions that governments can take to address this decline.
Fraenkel stated that the convention covers species that are facing difficulties, as it is not uncommon for some of them to be at risk. The issue lies in the fact that 44% of the listed species are experiencing a decline, and this increase in the risk of extinction applies to migratory species globally.
“Seventy-five percent of species are impacted by the loss of their natural habitats, while 70% are affected by overexploitation. This includes deliberate hunting or poisoning of species, as well as unintentional capture. Many people are unaware that migratory species such as whales, lions, gorillas, giraffes, and various birds are also at risk. This is a major concern,” she stated.
To protect the remaining animals and aid in their recovery, the authors of the report suggest limiting human development along important routes, waterways, and migration paths. They also recommend further research to identify critical areas for migration and implement stronger protection measures. Despite conservation attempts, 70 species on the list, such as the steppe eagle, Egyptian vulture, and wild camel, have experienced a decline in population over the last three decades.
The head of the United Nations’ environmental department, Inger Andersen, stated that the international community has a chance to turn this new scientific information into practical efforts for conservation. Considering the vulnerable state of these animals, we cannot postpone taking action.
Fraenkel stated that addressing the causes of environmental change, such as habitat destruction in agriculture, urban sprawl, and transportation infrastructure, is crucial. Migratory species rely on ecosystem integrity, meaning they require specific sites for breeding, feeding, and travel. If these sites are inaccessible or no longer exist, it will have a negative impact on the species.
The agreement pertains to migratory animals that need global cooperation in order to safeguard their existence. The researchers identified 399 at-risk migratory species that are not included in the agreement.
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