IUCN Red List Challenged

Young scientist(YS) attached to the Taprobanica Nature Conservation Society after examining the Sri Lankan Red List 2007 of the World Conservation Union –IUCN- Sri Lanka Branch, have pointed out many severe errors and inaccuracies on taxonomic and scientific issues.

Society’s Chairman Thasun Amarasinghe, Secretary Dinesh Gabadage and Committee Member, Mohamed Bahir, shared their views with The Island yesterday.

Though they pointed many errors-mostly minor. The Island would focus only on few errors in taxonomic issues and nomenclature. The cover photograph of the IUCN 2007 Red List is Philautus poppiae but it is captioned as Philautus poppie although the name is spelt correct on page 27. There were also errors in citations and names of contributors and in data.

YS said IUCN assessing the species according to their criteria and produces Red Lists to facilitate conservation must be extremely careful about their information.

They said that conservation science and biodiversity research were directed here by conservationists unfamiliar with the science of taxonomy and that affected the development of biodiversity conservation in the island. This is perhaps also true for many other biodiversity hotspots as well.

Bahir said:"It is incumbent upon taxonomists, conservation scientists, educators, conservationists, legal advisors, officials, funding agencies and politicians to work together with biodiversity conservation groups here. It is obvious that not enough experts were involved in finalizing the Red List of Sri Lanka."

Thasun said the Red List was recognized as a key conservation tool, and it was vital that it be accurate and up-to-date. In addition, information from the Red List was now included in school curricula, he said.

He said that conservationists, journalists, scientists, policy makers, students, funding agencies and the general public should be provided with facts by the IUCN 2007 Red List of Threatened Fauna and Flora of Sri Lanka. "We encountered many errors and serious inaccuracies that require elucidation. We insist the red listing in biodiversity conservation should be updated.

"It is obvious that the IUCN must consult appropriate specialists to produce and finalize red lists, otherwise it amounts to a waste of funds, time and energy in addition to creating problems for conservation rather than serving biodiversity," he added.

Bahir said: "We have looked at the Red List only briefly and have listed some errors; we refrain from listing many other mistakes. We find it puzzling that some very essential and relevant sources were not used or consulted in preparing the Red List. It is not because the red-listing team was not aware of the relevant publications, as one of them is referred to in another IUCN publication.

"In our opinion the procedures for the appointment of red-listing teams to conduct biodiversity studies should be revised," he added.

He said that if biodiversity research in Sri Lanka is directed by conservationists who were not familiar with the conservation science and results of taxonomy, that would be an obstacle for the development of biodiversity conservation within the island.

According to Dinesh, mistakes in the Red List might have been identified if more researchers, especially conservationists and taxonomists, had been involved in finalizing the list. It is mandatory for amateur naturalists, taxonomists, conservation scientists, conservation managers, government officials, legal advisors, funding agencies, policy makers and politicians to pay serious attention to solving biodiversity problems, especially on national-level publications, and it is incumbent upon conservation managers, educators, funding agencies and policy makers to work along with research scientists who are familiar with conservation science and taxonomy to safeguard the island’s vanishing natural heritage.

He said species extinction was a major issue in conservation science. Many species had become extinct even before conservationists thought of protecting them or even before being named, he added.

The wet zone of Sri Lanka were covered with rain forests before the colonial period (1505–1948), but by the time the country got its independence much of its well preserved rain forest cover had been reduced to many little forest islands and less than 10 per cent of natural forest now exists.

Thasun said even the remaining rain forest reserves were heavily affected by invasive alien species and bordered by plantations and human settlements.

Naturalists of the colonial era made some collections of animals and plants as a hobby, and either identified them themselves or sent them to their home countries, after which scientists identified or named them systematically. Though these collections are a fraction of the existing diversity of the island, they now form a reservoir of evidence for the species diversity which existed over a century ago, and have shown that many species are now probably to be categorized as extinct, citing examples like the Tree frog species.

These specimens, now in museums overseas for over a century, all too frequently represent species that are known only from these collections. Forest clearance has wiped out many species here, the most glaring examples being amphibians. Amphibians constitute one of the most popular groups of vertebrates at the moment among conservationists, scientists, evolutionary biologists and conservation funding agencies globally.

Conservation priorities are partly guided by biodiversity hotspots and endangered/threatened species identified as the most important areas for conservation.

The biodiversity hotspot of the Western Ghats and Sri Lanka is one of the most important areas identified for conservation. Several studies have highlighted the conservation value of Sri Lanka and the Western Ghats.

However, recent studies also revealed that there are major inaccuracies in conservation publications from the hotspot, especially on taxonomic and scientific issues.

IUCN Sri Lanka Director Dr. Ranjith Mahindapala told The Island yesterday that were a few mistakes of spellings and Latin words and they had done the errata. However, being a reputed organization there were no excuses for their mistakes despite being minor ones, he said.

IUCN was established in 1948 as the world’s first global environmental organization. Today it has more than 1,000 member organizations in 140 countries, including 200 governments and 800 non-governmental organizations; it involves 11, 000 voluntary scientists, and there are 1, 000 professionals in 60 offices worldwide. IUCN is a neutral forum for governments, NGOs, scientists and business communities to find pragmatic solutions to conservation and the challenges of development, and there are thousands of field projects and activities around the world.

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