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Migratory wildlife in shocking decline, UN report reveals

Alex Berry
February 12, 2024

A first-of-its-kind report on migratory species has revealed a dire situation, with many animals facing extinction. The report, coinciding with a biodiversity conference in Uzbekistan, has called for urgent action.

Wildebeests run across a sandy riverbed of the Sand River as they arrive into Kenya's Maasai Mara National Reserve from Tanzania's Serengeti National Park during the start of the annual migration July 18, 2020
1 in 5 migratory species covered by the UN convention are facing the threat of extinctionImage: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images

A new UN report on migratory species has revealed that these key animals are facing dangerous population decline while some are on the verge of extinction.

The State of the World's Migratory Species report — the first of its kind — was published on Monday to coincide with the UN biodiversity conference in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on the Convention of Migratory Species and Wild Animals (CMS).

What was the key finding?

According to the report, of the species listed under the convention, almost half (44%) have already seen apparent population declines while nearly all of the fish species (97%) are threatened with extinction.

"Today's report clearly shows us that unsustainable human activities are jeopardizing the future of migratory species — creatures who not only act as indicators of environmental change but play an integral role in maintaining the function and resilience of our planet's complex ecosystems," Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Program said.

What are the major threats to migratory species?

Migratory species are those that travel each year for feeding and breeding. They cross seas and continents, sometimes covering thousands of miles.

As well as the intrinsic benefits that come from biodiversity, migratory species play a key role in maintaining global ecosystems. They are often involved in pollinating plants, transporting key nutrients, preying on pests and helping to store carbon.

Migrating animals

The report states that the biggest threats to migratory species come from human activity: habitat loss and overexploitation.

Three-quarters of the CMS-listed species were affected by loss, degradation or fragmentation of their habitats. The report said that 58% of monitored sites considered key for CMS-listed species were experiencing unsustainable levels of human-caused pressure.

Overexploitation, meaning intentionally hunting or fishing as well as accidental capture, was reported as impacting 70% of the species listed in the CMS.

Of course, climate change, pollution and invasive species have also taken their toll on migratory species.

A call to action

The report called on the international community to take steps to strengthen conservation and reverse the dire situation many migratory species are facing.

"When species cross national borders, their survival depends on the efforts of all countries in which they are found. This landmark report will help underpin much-needed policy actions to ensure that migratory species continue to thrive around the world," CMS Executive Secretary Amy Fraenkel said.

The policy recommendations include increasing efforts to tackle illegal and unsustainable capture of migratory species; increasing protections and managing of sites important to such species; and urgently addressing the threats against those species most in danger of extinction — including almost all fish species covered by the convention.

The report also added to the mounting calls for action against climate change and pollution. It also highlighted the need to include more species on the CMS listing.

The CMS conference in Samarkand will give world leaders the opportunity to agree to practices that could help protect these vital species.

"The global community has an opportunity to translate this latest science of the pressures facing migratory species into concrete conservation action," Executive Director Andersen said.

"Given the precarious situation of many of these animals, we cannot afford to delay, and must work together to make the recommendations a reality."

Edited by: Richard Connor