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The 2007 Red List of Threatened Fauna and Flora of Sri Lanka

The 2007 Red List of Threatened Fauna and Flora of Sri Lanka was launched on the 21st of November 2007 at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) in Colombo by the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources; Honorable Patali Champika Ranawaka and the Country Representative of IUCN Sri Lanka, Mrs. Shiranee Yasaratne. In their introductory addresses, the Secretary of the Ministry, Mr. M.A.R.D. Jayatilake, and Mrs. Yasaratne provided a background of the project from its inception in mid 2004. Accordingly, that year, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and the Biodiversity Secretariat of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MOENR), initiated this joint project to gather information on indigenous fauna and flora in Sri Lanka and to assess their conservation status using the IUCN Global Red List criteria. During the assessment process, all groups of terrestrial vertebrate species, a few groups of invertebrates (butterflies, dragonflies, land snails, crabs, theraphosid spiders) and nearly one third of the flowering plants in Sri Lanka were evaluated. The project was closely monitored by the National Species Conservation Advisory Group (NSCAG) and the lists of threatened species were reviewed by expert teams consisting of researchers, naturalists and taxonomists. Additionally, in her speech, Mrs. Yasaratne highlighted the fact that the IUCN Red List has “an increasingly prominent role in the conservation activities of governments, NGOs and scientific institutions” within the country.

The findings of the 2007 Red List, which were clearly presented by Dr. Channa Bambaradeniya of IUCN, indicate that 21 species of endemic amphibians and 72 of the 1099 plant species evaluated could be considered Extinct, while 223 species of terrestrial vertebrates, 157 species of selected inland invertebrates and the 675 plant species evaluated can be categorized as Nationally Threatened. Of the threatened animals, 62% of vertebrates and 61% of plants are endemic to Sri Lanka and thus deserve extra attention. In addition, among the vertebrate fauna, the highest number of threatened species was recorded from the reptiles (56 or 25%), followed by amphibians, birds, mammals and freshwater fish respectively.

In terms of their relative numbers, one in every two species of mammals and amphibians, one in every three species of reptiles and freshwater fish and one in every five species of birds in the island are currently facing the risk of becoming threatened in the wild.

Due to the lack of sufficient distribution data within Sri Lanka, ten freshwater fish species, three amphibian species, 47 species of reptiles, seven species of birds and seven species of mammals were included in the Data Deficient category. Among the invertebrate species assessed, two theraphosid spider species, 29 butterfly species, 184 species of land snails and nearly 5% ,(55 species), of the evaluated plant species were also listed under the Data Deficient category. This lack of data highlights the need for further research of less well known species.

Geographically, districts in the lowland wet zone (i.e. Galle, Matara, Ratnapura, Kalutara and Kegalle) and the central highlands (Kandy, Matale, Nuwara-Eliya and Badulla) tended to harbour a higher number of threatened taxa. These districts include extremely vulnerable tropical forest ecosystems such as lowland rain forests, lower montane forests and upper montane forests, which occupy less than four percent of the land area of Sri Lanka.

The Hon. Minister highlighted that the loss of these natural habitats, due to their alteration and fragmentation, is by far the most serious threat to a majority of the species evaluated in the Red List. Prior to the close of his speech, he pledged his commitment to include the findings of the Red List into all species conservation strategies and reduce current rates of loss throughout the island. Mrs. Yasaratne summed this up by stating: “The rate of biodiversity loss is increasing and we need to act now to significantly reduce it and stave off this extinction crisis”.

In his vote of thanks, Gamini Gamage the, Director of the Biodiversity Secretariat gratefully acknowledged the donors, the Asian Development Bank (through the Protected Area Management & Wildlife Conservation Project) and the Royal Netherlands Embassy for their continued support. In addition, special recognition was given to the individuals and organisations involved, for their dedication and hard work that will help conserve threatened species for future generations.