The list compiled by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) in a report titled “Priceless or Worthless?” comprised 100 animals, plants, and fungi deemed to be first in line for extinction.
“All the species listed are unique and irreplaceable. If they vanish, no amount of money can bring them back,” said the report’s co-author, Ellen Butcher.
“If we take immediate action we can give them a fighting chance for survival. But this requires society to support the moral and ethical position that all species have an inherent right to exist,” Ms Butcher said.
The ZSL report was released in Jeju Island in South Korea where some 8,000 government officials, NGOs, scientists, and business chiefs from 170 nations are gathered for the World Conservation Congress.
Conservationists fear those species included in the list, like the Tarzan’s chameleon from Madagascar and the pigmy three-toed sloth from Panama, will be allowed to die out because they provide humans with no obvious benefits.
While monetising nature remains a worthwhile necessity for conservationists, the wider value of species on the brink of extinction should not be disregarded, the report states.
“The whole world has become more utilitarian and looking for what nature can do for us,” said ZSL’s director of conservation, Jonathan Baillie.
“Governments have to step up to the plate and declare whether these species are priceless or worthless; whether we have a right to drive them to extinction,” Baillie said.
“If we can’t save the 100 most threatened, what hope is there for the rest of life on the planet?”
The Jeju congress, held by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, is taking place against a drumbeat of scientific warnings that a mass extinction looms.
In a report issued at the Rio+20 world summit in June, the union said that out of 63,837 species it had assessed, 19,817 run the risk of extinction due to depleted habitat, hunting, and climate change.
At threat are 41% of amphibian species, 33% of reef-building corals, 25% of mammals, 20% of plants, and 13% of birds, the update of the prestigious “Red List” showed.
Many are essential for humans, providing food and work, and a gene pool for better crops and new medicines, it said.
Experts say that only a fraction of Earth’s millions of species, many of them microscopic, have been formally identified.
In recent years, biologists have found new species of frogs and birds in tropical forests — proof that the planet’s full biodiversity is only partly known.
UN members pledged under the Millennium Development Goals to slow the rate of loss in species by 2010, but fell badly short of the mark.
After this failure, they set a “strategic plan for bio-diversity” under which they vowed to prevent the extinction of “most known species”.
“Over half (of the 100 most endangered species) are receiving little or no attention,” said Professor Jonathan Baillie, director of conservation at ZSL.
Few people fretted about the fate of the Singapore freshwater crab, Ethiopia’s liben lark, the Seychelles sheath-tailed bat, or the Luristan newt, found in only in the Zagros mountains in Iran, he warned.
The Tarzan’s chameleon, coloured bright green and yellow, was largely ignored in a shrinking patch of rainforest.
“We need a rethink” of conservation priorities, Prof Baillie said of the report.
Loss of habitat, caused by a rising human population and other factors such as expanding cities, deforestation, pollution, and climate change, are driving more and more species of animals and plants to extinction.
“We need a fund to prevent extinction, resourced by governments, that is in the billions, not millions,” the report said.
The report said that past conservation efforts had helped.
A ban on hunting had helped the recovery of the humpback whale, which is now estimated to number 60,000.
Captive breeding meant that Przewalski’s horse, once almost extinct, now numbered more than 300 in the wild from Ukraine to China.