The first UN report on migratory species of wild animals, released this Monday (12), presents an alarming situation: almost half of the world’s migratory species are in decline and more than a fifth of the 1,189 species monitored by the UN are threatened by extinction.
The report was released at a conference of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) in the historic city of Samarkand, Uzbekistan. At the meeting, Brazil is expected to propose the protection of two species of catfish with extraordinary migrations, the dorado and the piramutaba (Manitoa).
In addition to fish, wild migratory species include birds and bats, as well as insects, reptiles and sea turtles. Migratory marine mammals such as whales and seals, as well as various land mammals such as antelopes and elephants, also require special protection.
“We are hurtling uncontrollably towards the sixth mass extinction event in history. Nature is in a deep, systemic crisis. Environmental pollution, habitat destruction, overfishing and the illegal wildlife trade are just some of the drivers of species extinction,” says WWF Germany’s director of species conservation, Arnulf Köhncke.
“Added to this are the impacts of the global climate crisis, which accelerates the loss of biodiversity. We, human beings, are responsible and victims at the same time: the global extinction of species is the result of human actions and, at the same time, removes the basis of our existence”, explains Köhncke.
Populations are declining significantly to nearly 44% of species listed by the CMS, also known as the Bonn Convention. More than a fifth of the animal species on the list are threatened with extinction. If intensive conservation measures are not taken quickly, these animals could soon disappear.
To survive, migratory species of wild animals need safe areas of biodiversity. However, just over half of these areas do not have protected status. As a result, for every three out of four species there is a risk of habitat reduction or total loss.
Wildlife species that migrate long distances also cross national borders and face additional challenges due to urbanization and extensive agriculture. Often, these actions divide natural areas into smaller parts, causing them to be separated or isolated from each other. This fragmentation makes it difficult for animals to move and migrate, causing negative impacts on their genetic diversity and threatening their survival.
“Migratory species regularly travel, sometimes thousands of miles, to reach specific locations. Along the way, they face enormous challenges and dangers,” explains CMS Executive Secretary Amy Fraenkel. “This also applies to the places where they reproduce or where they find food.”
Since these animals cross national borders during their migrations, the global community has the responsibility to protect them. This includes birds, fish, mammals and also insects.
Whether small, large, living in water, on land or in the air: for almost all migratory species of wildlife, living conditions have worsened. This applies both to the small monarch butterfly, which is about 50 millimeters in size and less than a gram in weight, and to the enormous blue whales, which can reach 28 meters in length.
Essentials for the ecosystem
The UN report shows that a significant part of the threat to these species is the result of climate change and environmental pollution. And, as the executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, Inger Andersen, highlights, it also shows that unsustainable human practices are putting the future of these species at risk.
They play a crucial role as indicators of environmental changes and are fundamental to maintaining the functioning and resilience of the planet’s complex ecosystems. “The global community has the possibility of using new scientific knowledge about the situation of migratory species to implement concrete protection actions”, says Andersen.
The focus of the report is on the 1,189 animal species that have been classified by CMS as needing protection. In addition, it analyzes the situation of over 3,000 species that are not on the CMS list.
The biggest enemy of all these species is humans, who harm biodiversity with practices such as excessive fishing and the destruction of essential habitats. More than half of the areas listed are threatened.
Migratory species are fundamental to ecosystems. Various birds play a crucial role in plant pollination, or pest control. Insects also perform these functions, which makes them an important element in the food chain.
Mammals like wildebeests, which live mainly south of the Sahara, make long journeys every year to find food. They help spread plant seeds through their feces, contributing to the preservation of plant diversity.
Fish also play a vital role in nutrient cycling during their migrations. The fewer migratory animals there are, the greater the risk of a total ecosystem collapse.