Conservation Group Sounds Alarm for Asian Species

Imperiled Orangutans Need Key Forest Corridor (Eleanor Briggs)

Some of Asia's most magnificent animals are at a crossroads and may not survive if steps aren't taken to save them, an environmental group announced today (Sept. 5) at the World Conservation Congress in Jeju, Korea.

The Wildlife Conservation Society released a list of animals in danger of extinction, including tigers, orangutans, Mekong giant catfish, Asian rhinos, Asian giant river turtles and Asian vultures.

The group said the problem could be solved by following the "Three R's Approach": recognition, responsibility and recovery.

A good example of a species saved from the brink is the American bison. In this case the iconic animal's imminent demise was recognized, responsibility for its survival was taken by conservationists and politicians, and it has recovered somewhat.

But if this approach isn't followed, Asian animals on the list could go the way of the American passenger pigeon, and die off, the WCS warned.

Each Asian species on the list faces daunting challenges from a variety of factors including habitat loss and illegal hunting and trade. Nevertheless, the group said it believed that Asian governments have the ability and financial means to prevent these species from going extinct.

The tiger may be going the way of the bison, since India has taken some steps to protect it and encourage its recovery. Orangutans face a bleaker future, with widespread conversion of its habitat into palm oil plantations reducing wild populations. Asian rhinos and giant river turtles face relentless poaching in the illegal wildlife trade, while Asian vultures have been nearly wiped out due to poisoning. Mekong giant catfish numbers have also plummeted due to overfishing.

The WCS warned that time is running out. Two large mammal species in Asia have recently gone extinct, including the kouprey, a type of wild cattle once found in Southeast Asia, and the baiji, a species of Chinese freshwater dolphin.

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