UN Environment Chief Calls For End To Illegal Wildlife Trade
The Amur tiger (also known as the Siberian tiger) is the largest cat in the world. In the 1940s, it was on the brink of extinction with no more than a few dozen in the wild. Major conservation efforts have since helped the population rebound to a degree, but it is estimated that there are still only a few hundred left.
The semiaquatic Russian Desman can still be found on the banks of the Volga, Don, and Ural rivers. However, it's population numbers were seriously dented by hunters harvesting its much sought-after fur. Although it is now a protected species, loss of habitat means that there only some 40,000 in the wild.
The elegant Oriental stork was once indigenous to Russia, China, Japan, and the Korean peninsula, but is now extinct in the latter two locations. Today, it is primarily found in the Amur River region and there are only some 400 breeding pairs in the world.
The critically endangered Amur leopard (aka Manchurian leopard) used to be found in large swathes of northeast Asia, but is now only native to the Primorye region in southeastern Russia and Jilin Province in northeastern China. A census carried out in 2007 only succeeded in locating around 30 of these beasts.
Although the elusive snow leopard can still be seen throughout much of Central Asia, it is now categorized as endangered by conservation groups. A census conducted in 2003 only uncovered a wild population of some 7,000 leopards throughout the region.
The saiga antelope, which is known for its distinctive nose structure, used to inhabit a massive area across the Eurasian steppes. Now it can only be found along the Russian-Kazakh border and it is classified as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN
). Although there were still around 2 million extant animals in the USSR in the 1950s, only around 150,000 remain
in the wild today.
For the native Yakut and Yukaghir peoples, the Siberian crane (aka as the Siberian white crane or the snow crane) is a sacred bird associated with the sun, spring, and celestial spirits. Sadly, this mystic animal has been categorized as "critically endangered" by the IUCN for a number of years and its future is still uncertain despite the personal intervention
of President Vladimir Putin. There are only about 4,000 of these birds left in the wild.
The European bison was hunted to extinction in the wild in the early 1900s, but has since been successfully reintroduced to its natural habitat from captivity. Although the IUCN listed it as an "endangered" species its status has now been upgraded to "vulnerable." It is the heaviest surviving land animal living in the wild in Europe.
The distinctive Arctic Beluga whale (aka white whale) are known for their impressive vocal abilities
as well as for their flexible necks, which are unique among whales and allow them to move their head in all directions. This engaging animal is listed as "near threatened" by the IUCN but some fear its status could worsen if hunting management efforts are not maintained.
The iconic polar bear is the world's largest land predator with some specimens weighing up to 800 kilograms. The IUCN estimated that its population worldwide was 20,000-25,000 in 2008 but has listed it as "vulnerable" because of threats posed by climate change, which could seriously reduce its habitat.
PHOTO GALLERY: Russia is home to many of the animals that are on endangered lists. Although the vast country is rich in biodiversity, many of its most iconic creatures are struggling to survive as they grapple with poaching and a loss of habitat.
The head of the United Nations environment agency has called on the international community to fight the illegal wildlife trade.
Achim Steiner, speaking in Bangkok, said a massive rise in the poaching of endangered African elephants and rhinos for their tusks and horns should be a “wake-up call” for the world.
Steiner said the illicit trade in protected wildlife species generates billions of dollars a year, making it comparable to illegal drugs and weapons sales.
The UN official was speaking at the opening meeting of the 178-nation Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
The convention has granted protected status to some 35,000 species of plants and animals, including sharks, tigers, and polar bears.
With reporting by AP