Nearly Half of Migratory Species in Decline, UN Report Finds

An Egyptian vulture, one of the numerous migratory animals found to be in decline.

An Egyptian vulture, one of the numerous migratory animals found to be in decline. Artemy Voikhansky via Wikipedia

A sweeping new report, unveiled at the start of a major U.N. conference on the conservation of wildlife, held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, finds that nearly half of migratory species are in decline, from Egyptian vultures to steppe eagles to wild camels.

The report is the first comprehensive assessment of the billions of migratory creatures around the globe that each year cross vast expanses of land and sea, often traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to reach their destinations. Because of their lengthy journeys, migratory wildlife pose a tough conservation challenge. “When species cross national borders, their survival depends on the efforts of all countries in which they are found,” said Amy Frankel, executive secretary of the U.N. Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.

The new report detailed threats facing the 1,189 species listed under the convention, finding that 44 percent are now in decline, with 22 percent threatened with extinction. The biggest causes of the continued downturns are overhunting and overfishing, as well as the loss of wilderness. Warming, pollution, and invasive wildlife are also having an impact.

Marine life is particularly at risk, the report found, as the number of migratory fish in the oceans has plummeted as a result of overfishing. Today, 97 percent of migratory fish species are facing extinction, among them sharks, rays, and sturgeons.

Some species are making a comeback, however. The saiga antelope has rebounded thanks to work in Kazakhstan to restore steppe and wetlands, and humpback whales have, in recent decades, seen their numbers improve owing to limits on whaling. To boost other migratory wildlife, the report calls for safeguarding breeding, feeding, and stopover sites.

“The global community has an opportunity to translate this latest science of the pressures facing migratory species into concrete conservation action,” said Inger Andersen, head of the U.N. Environment Programme. “Given the precarious situation of many of these animals, we cannot afford to delay and must work together to make the recommendations a reality.”


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