Rhinofishes and Rosewoods feature prominently in alarming new assessment of species threats

Posted on 18 July 2019

Gland, Switzerland (18 July 2019) The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) today published updates to its Red List of threatened species. Established in 1964, this list has become the world's most comprehensive information source on the global conservation status of animal, fungi and plant species.

The updated list shows an increasing number of species are being pushed to the edge of extinction by human activities. Overfishing has led to two families of extraordinary rays to teeter on the brink, while illegal logging has put Madagascar’s endangered rosewoods at greater risk. Meanwhile, pollution, dams and unsustainable demand for freshwater are responsible for serious declines in river wildlife, from Mexico to Japan, and habitat destruction has now driven seven primates into decline. 


Commenting on the update to the Red List of threatened species, Marco Lambertini, Director General WWF-International, said:


“Today’s announcement by IUCN of the latest update to its Red List of Threatened Species is further evidence that we are pushing nature and biodiversity to the brink. It is clear that we need to act fast and raise our ambition to reverse this depressing and dangerous loss of nature and its services.  We know that preserving healthy natural systems and rich biodiversity is not just an ethical issue. It is also fundamental to our survival and sustainable and equitable development, to our economies, to human health and well being. And we know what to do: halt extinction and decline of species, protect more natural spaces on land and at sea, address the drivers of today’s nature loss: energy, agriculture, fisheries and infrastructure.  More than ever we need a New Deal for Nature and People that reverses these trends and restores the health of the planet for the future of humanity and nature.” 


Updates to the status of guitarfishes and wedgefishes, known collectively as rhinofishes, and Malagasy rosewoods and palisanders (Dalbergia species) stand out as of particular concern.


Rhinofishes are found in shallow warmer waters around the world. They typically have low reproductive rates, making them particularly vulnerable to coastal overfishing, which is often poorly regulated, or not regulated at all. They are taken as bycatch or in targeted fisheries, with the meat being consumed locally and the fins exported as they are highly valued in Chinese cuisine. All but one of the 16 species is now assessed as Critically Endangered.


"The extent of the Rhinofish declines is shocking. We need to do more to protect these species in the water," said Dr Andy Cornish, WWF's global coordinator for sharks and rays. "There is very little scope for sustainable fishing rather we need to urgently find and protect their most important habitats. But, above all, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora (CITES) must act quickly to list these species, in order to regulate international trade. The next meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES (CITES CoP18) will take place in August, and will consider proposals to regulate trade in these species." 


The Red List now includes assessments of the majority of dry forest trees in Madagascar, including updated assessments for 23 rosewood and palissander (Dalbergia) tree species. The heartwood of these trees is usually stained dark red or black, and is especially strong, making it sought after for traditional style hong mu ("red wood") furniture in East Asia. Such furniture fetches high prices and is seen as a status symbol, similar to ivory. The World Heritage Site, Rainforests of the Atsinanana, in Madagascar, has been especially badly affected by illegal logging, which has only served to undermine the social fabric in that area. CITES listed all its ebony, rosewood on palisander species on Appendix II in 2013, and has made progress with technical aspects of implementing the listing. However, inconsistencies and loopholes in legislation, and political pressure within the country, have impeded prosecution of high-level offenders. The pre-2013 stockpiles have never been audited and, in fact, there is widespread evidence of theft and leakage from these stocks. A moratorium on legal rosewood trade from Madagascar remains in place until these problems are addressed.


"We would like to see Madagascar trading these timbers legally and sustainably," said Colman O’Criodain, WWF wildlife policy manager. "However, we are not yet at that stage. In particular, we cannot accept the sale of timber from stockpiles that have not even been audited. Nor can we agree that those in possession of stocks of dubious origin should be allowed to profit from these without first establishing legality." CITES will also discuss the situation in Madagascar, and other rosewood-related issues, at the upcoming CITES CoP18 in August.




For further information and interview requests, please contact:

Marsden Momanyi | WWF International | mmomanyi@wwfint.org

IUCN Press Release
Giant guitarfish (Rhynchobatus djiddensis) also known as the whitespotted wedgefish.
© Chonlasub Woravichan