4. Discussion

4.1 Status of Mediterranean mammals

The status of Mediterranean mammals was assessed at the regional level according to the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria (IUCN 2001), the world's most widely used system for classifying species according to their extinction risk, and the Guidelines for Application of IUCN Red List Criteria at Regional Levels (IUCN 2003). All native species except cetaceans (whales and dolphins) were included. Overall, one-sixth (16%) of the 298 mammal species covered in this assessment were found to be threatened with extinction in the Mediterranean2. Of that total, 3% were Critically Endangered, 5% Endangered and 8% Vulnerable. A further 8% were considered Near Threatened, and 3% were already Extinct or Regionally Extinct.

By comparison with other Mediterranean species groups assessed to date, this is an intermediate level of threat. Previous assessments have shown that 56% of Mediterranean endemic freshwater fishes (Smith & Darwall 2006), 56% of dolphins and whales (Reeves and Notarbartolo di Sciara 2006), 42% of sharks and rays (Cavanagh & Gibson 2007), 36% of crabs and crayfish (Cuttelod et al. 2008), 29% of amphibians (Cox et al. 2006), 19% of dragonflies and damselflies (Riservato et al. 2009), 13% of reptiles (Cox et al. 2006) and 5% of birds (Cuttelod et al. 2008) are at risk of extinction.

Two small groups of mammals – odd-toed ungulates (Order Perissodactyla; represented in the region by the African Wild Ass and the Asiatic Wild Ass) and primates (Order Primates; one species, the Barbary Macaque) – show extremely high levels of threat with 100% of species threatened in each case. Equally alarming is the status of the even-toed ungulates (Order Cetartiodactyla), a well-known group including such species as antelopes, ibex, and wild sheep and goats. Of the 25 species from this group that are native to the Mediterranean, 11 (44%) are threatened with extinction and a further 5 (20%) are already extinct in the region. The threatened list includes all except one of the antelope species found in the region. Mediterranean carnivores and lagomorphs (rabbits and hares) also show a very high proportion of species to be threatened with extinction or already extinct.

Many of the threatened mammal species are endemic to the region, highlighting the responsibility that Mediterranean countries have to protect the entire global populations of these species. Of the 49 threatened species, 20 (41%) are unique to the region and occur nowhere else in the world.

4.2 Extinctions

By comparison with other taxonomic groups covered in the Mediterranean regional assessment (Cuttelod et al. 2008), a relatively high proportion of Mediterranean mammal species have been driven extinct or Regionally Extinct since 1500 A.D. as a result of human activities. This stands as a warning of the fate that may befall other Mediterranean mammals if effective conservation actions are not urgently implemented.

One endemic Mediterranean mammal species, the Sardinian Pika Prolagus sardus, is known to have gone extinct since 1500 A.D. It lived on the islands of Sardinia and Corsica until its extinction, which probably occurred in the late 1700s or early 1800s. It is thought that habitat loss, predation, and competition with alien invasive species were responsible for its extinction.

A further seven species (2.4% of the total number of species assessed) have been extirpated from the Mediterranean as a result of human activities and are considered Regionally Extinct.

The Lion Panthera leo formerly ranged from northern Africa through southwest Asia (where it disappeared from most countries within the last 150 years), west into Europe, where it apparently became extinct almost 2,000 years ago, and east into India (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Sunquist and Sunquist 2002). Lions were driven to extinction in North Africa by hunting and habitat loss; they perhaps survived in the High Atlas Mountains up to the 1940s (Nowell and Jackson 1996, West and Packer in press).

The Tiger Panthera tigris once ranged widely across Asia, from Turkey in the west to the eastern coast of Russia (Nowell and Jackson, 1996), but over the past 100 years they have disappeared from many areas and lost 93% of their historic range (Sanderson et al. 2006). Tigers in the Mediterranean region belonged to the extinct subspecies P. t. virgata (Caspian Tiger). Caspian Tigers and their large ungulate prey were found in the sparse forest habitats and riverine corridors west (Turkey) and south (Iran) of the Caspian Sea and west through Central Asia into Xinjiang, China (Nowell and Jackson 1996, Abdukadir and Breitenmoser 2008). Their extinction can be attributed to hunting of both tigers and their prey, habitat loss and conversion, and increased vulnerability of small populations (Sunquist et al. 1999). The last Caspian Tiger was seen in the early 1970s, and there are none in captivity (Nowell and Jackson 1996). The last definite record from the Mediterranean region is from an individual killed in 1970 and photographed in Uludere in Hakkari province (south-east Turkey) (Baytop 1973).

The Iberian Wild Goat Capra pyrenaica is a species native to Spain and considered as Least Concern (LC). It is abundant in its range and currently expanding as a result of conservation actions and habitat changes resulting from rural abandonment. Hunting reservations and protected areas have played a crucial role in this species' recovery. Photograph © Pedro Regato.

Addax Addax nasomaculatus were formerly widespread in the Sahelo-Saharan region of Africa, west of the Nile Valley, and present in suitable habitats in all countries sharing the Sahara Desert (including the Mediterranean countries of Egypt, Libya, and Algeria) (Newby in press). As with other ungulates of the Sahelo-Saharan fauna, the Addax has undergone an unprecedented reduction in geographical range over the past century as a result of hunting and habitat loss, and today the only known remaining population survives in the Termit/Tin Toumma region of Niger.

Hartebeest Alcelaphus buselaphus formerly ranged from North Africa and the Middle East throughout the savannas, grasslands and miombo woodlands of Africa down to the tip of southern Africa. In North Africa, the Bubal Hartebeest (subspecies A. b. buselaphus) occurred in Morocco, Algeria, southern Tunisia, Libya, and parts of the Western Desert in Egypt (the precise southern limits of distribution are not known). Bubal Hartebeest are now Extinct, the last animals having been shot between 1945 and 1954 in Algeria (De Smet 1989). The last report from southern Morocco was possibly around 1945 (Panouse 1957).

The Scimitar-horned Oryx Oryx dammah was formerly widespread across North Africa, at least in arid and Saharan areas, but it is now Extinct in the Wild over all its range, and Regionally Extinct in the Mediterranean. An estimated 500 Oryx survived at least until 1985 in Chad and Niger, but by 1988 only a few dozen individuals survived in the wild and since then there have been no confirmed reports (Morrow in press). Captive herds are kept in fenced protected areas in Tunisia, Senegal and Morocco (Sous Massa National Park; probably outside the known historical range) as part of long-term reintroduction programmes. Overhunting and habitat loss, including competition with domestic livestock, have been reported as the main reasons for the extinction of the wild population of Scimitar-horned Oryx (Mallon and Kingswood 2001, Devillers and Devillers-Terschuren 2005, Morrow in press).

The Persian Fallow Deer Dama mesopotamica formerly occurred in Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Occupied Palestinian Territories, Syria and eastern Turkey (Hemami and Rabiei 2002). By 1875 it was restricted to south-western and western Iran, having disappeared from the rest of its range. It was considered extinct, but a small population was rediscovered in south-western Iran in 1956. The only surviving indigenous wild populations are in Dez Wildlife Refuge and Karkeh Wildlife Refuge in south-western Iran. There is a small reintroduced population in Israel, but these animals are hybrids with the European Fallow Deer D. dama. Poaching and habitat destruction are two of the main threats that led to the Persian Fallow Deer's long decline and disappearance from the Mediterranean region.

The Long-eared Hedgehog Hemiechinus auritus is a solitary, nocturnal species that hibernates in winter and lives in burrows. It is listed as Least Concern (LC) in the Mediterranean region. Photograph © Ahmet Karatas.

The Common Hippopotamus Hippopotamus amphibius was formerly found in Egypt, although it was already rare by the time of the Renaissance. From the end of the Roman Empire up until towards 1700 at the latest, the hippo was still present in two disjunct zones in the Nile Delta and in the upper Nile. Through the 1700s, records become increasingly scarce, and the latest definite records are from the early 1800s (Manlius 2000). Common Hippos remain widespread in sub-Saharan Africa, but they have undergone significant declines in recent years as a result of illegal and unregulated hunting for meat and ivory (found in the canine teeth) and habitat loss. These same threats are probably responsible for the disappearance of the species from the Mediterranean region.

The Red Gazelle Eudorcas rufina is listed in some sources as an extinct species, but here it is classed as Data Deficient owing to uncertainty about whether it is a valid species. The African Wild Ass Equus africanus is considered to be extinct in the Western Palaearctic by some authors (e.g., Aulagnier et al. 2008), but it is here listed as Critically Endangered as there have not yet been exhaustive searches to confirm that the last individuals have disappeared from the region; however it is likely that this species is already extinct in the Mediterranean.

4.3 Major threats to Mediterranean mammals

The most significant threat to mammals in the Mediterranean region is the destruction and degradation of the ecosystems and habitats on which they depend. Main causes of habitat loss and degradation include expansion and intensification of agriculture, urbanization, infrastructure development, pollution and climate change.

Looking at the information on threats in more detail, it becomes apparent that although there are many similarities and common patterns that can be drawn, there are also some important differences between different species of mammals in terms of which threats are causing population declines and consequently which kind of conservation measures need to be put in place.

For bats, as for many mammal species, loss of natural and semi-natural foraging habitats is a major problem. Specifically, the expansion and intensification of agricultural activities combined with poor land management practices has led to a significant reduction in the amount of suitable foraging habitat, as well as to declines in prey species (for example, insects, which have decreased in abundance as a result of the widespread use of insecticides). Destruction of riverside vegetation is a particular problem, as many bat species forage along watercourses.

Many bat species congregate to roost and breed, in a variety of sites (depending on the species) including caves, hollow trees and buildings. The disturbance and destruction of roosting and breeding sites has a negative impact on many species. This disturbance and destruction can occur as a result of a variety of human activities, for example:

In addition to the loss, fragmentation and degradation of the habitats they rely on, bats suffer direct mortality as a result of deliberate persecution – they are sometimes considered as pests and are killed by fruit farmers, or their colonies in buildings are destroyed. In parts of the Mediterranean region, some cave-dwelling species are still hunted for traditional medicinal purposes. Mortality due to wind farms is an increasing threat.

For non-volant (flightless) small mammals, habitat loss is again by far the most important threat. Species often depend upon a specific habitat type, and consequently they are particularly vulnerable to any change in land use that results in significant change to that habitat. For example, many small mammals depend upon open grassland or steppe habitats. These are under threat in the Mediterranean region owing to a combination of factors. In some areas, agricultural encroachment and intensification is the main problem, as natural steppe grassland is replaced by intensive arable fields. In other areas, the problem is the abandonment of traditional non-intensive agriculture – land that is no longer grazed or mowed rapidly undergoes succession from open grassland to scrub, which is less suitable for a number of small mammal species.

It is a general pattern that excessive use of pesticides and insecticides is harmful to small mammal species, particularly species that feed upon insects and other invertebrates and that consequently may be accidentally poisoned as a result of eating contaminated prey. Additionally, deliberate persecution may cause localized declines, and some small mammal species are hunted and eaten as food.

For large mammals (especially cats, canids, antelopes and deer), habitat loss and degradation has significant negative effects on many species, but is overtaken in importance by direct mortality deliberately caused by humans – overexploitation, poaching and persecution. In addition to deliberate killing and capture, large mammals are accidentally killed (for example, through indiscriminate and uncontrolled use of poisoned bait or as a result of collision with cars). Habitat fragmentation is a particular problem for large mammal species that depend upon the availability of relatively large expanses of suitable habitat. Competition with expanding numbers of domestic livestock is another threat, as is the attendant habitat degradation through overgrazing that livestock may cause.

Finally, an important threat to all mammal species in the region is desertification and decreased availability of and access to water. This is already a major problem in some drier areas, and its scope and severity is set to increase in future as human populations in the region continue to grow, as agriculture becomes more intensive and demanding in terms of the amount of water used for irrigation, and as the impacts of climate change increase.

4.4 Protection of habitats and species in the Mediterranean

At the international level, Mediterranean countries are signatories to a number of important conventions aimed at conserving biodiversity that have particular relevance for mammals, including the 1979 Bern Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, the 1979 Bonn Convention on Migratory Species, the 1995 Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean and, most importantly, the 1992 Rio Convention on Biological Diversity.

The Bern Convention supports the conservation and sustainable use of species and habitats. The Convention is a binding legal treaty covering the majority of states considered to belong to the Mediterranean region for the purposes of this assessment, including North African countries and Turkey. Considerable work has been undertaken within the Convention for the protection of mammal species, especially large carnivores. Apart from numerous workshops and seminars, the Convention has adopted recommendations and developed Action Plans for certain species (e.g., certain large carnivore and bat species).

Under the framework of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), there are several key regional agreements or initiatives for mammals:

Under the Barcelona Convention, specific Action Plans have been developed for Mediterranean cetaceans and the Mediterranean Monk Seal.

The European mink Mustela lutreola is listed as Critically Endangered (CR) due to an ongoing population reduction caused by habitat loss and the effects of introduced species. There is considerable uncertainty about the numbers remaining today and further research is necessary to assess the current population status and rate of decline. Photograph © Tiit Maran.

Mediterranean countries have committed themselves to a more effective and coherent implementation of the three objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity. More specifically, they have made the important commitment “to achieve by 2010 a significant reduction of the current rate of biodiversity loss at the global, regional and national level as a contribution to poverty alleviation and to the benefit of all life on Earth”. European countries and the EU have gone even further, with a commitment to halt the loss of biodiversity within Europe by 2010. This means that population declines should be stemmed and ideally reversed, and that extinctions should be prevented. This assessment indicates that a large number of species show a long term decline, with a proportion of threatened species that exceeds levels identified for other Mediterranean species groups such as reptiles and birds. Nine Mediterranean mammals are Critically Endangered, standing on the brink of regional or even global extinction. On the basis of this evidence, it seems unlikely that the 2010 target will be met, and a significant increase in conservation activity and investment is needed to ensure that rates of biodiversity loss are reduced in future.

4.5 Anthropochorous taxa and conservation priorities

Anthropochorous taxa have been defined as “introduced populations that have been formally described taxonomically” (Gippoliti and Amori 2002). The Mediterranean Basin, one of the 34 global biodiversity hotspots recognized by Mittermeier et al. (2004), probably has more anthropochorous taxa than any other part of the world (Gippoliti and Amori 2006). Human civilizations have been continually present in this region for at least 9,000 years, causing widespread damage and destruction of natural habitats, and intentionally or unintentionally transporting animals and plants between different island and mainland locations. Mediterranean islands once were home to an array of unique endemic mammals, including dwarf elephants and hippos (Kotsakis 1990, Vigne 1992, Palombo 1996), but in part as a result of human activities almost all of these endemic mammal species are now extinct (Vigne et al. 1997, Simmons 1999, Gippoliti and Amori 2006), and it has been contended that as few as three ancient endemic species still survive (two shrews and one mouse: Gippoliti and Amori 2006). The modern mammal fauna of Mediterranean islands consists largely of populations introduced in ancient or modern times by man, although some of these populations have been isolated for so long that they are phenotypically distinct from mainland forms and have been recognized at the subspecific or even specific level. Two examples of anthropochorous taxa found on Mediterranean islands are the agrimi and the mouflon. These taxa are listed on Annexes II and IV of the Habitats Directive (consequently requiring strict protection and the designation of protected areas), under the names “Capra aegagrus (natural populations)”, “Ovis gmelini musimon (Ovis ammon musimon) (natural populations – Corsica and Sardinia)”, and Ovis orientalis ophion (Ovis gmelini ophion). A number of genetic and archaeozoological studies suggest that they are feral populations of ancient domestic livestock (e.g., Groves 1989, Vigne 1994, Hiendleder et al. 1998, Manceau et al. 1999, Kahila bar-Gal et al. 2002), and should be included in the respective domestic species (Gentry et al. 1996, Gentry et al. 2004), although this view is not universally accepted. By contrast, two out of the three Mediterranean island species identified as genuine palaeoendemics by Gippoliti and Amori (2006), namely Crocidura zimmermanni and Mus cypriacus, are not listed on the Habitats Directive Annexes.

There has been a historical tendency in the Mediterranean region and worldwide for conservation interventions to focus on large mammals and birds. In some areas, including the Mediterranean (which, it should be remembered, qualifies as a hotspot as a consequence of the high endemism of its vascular plants and the high rate of habitat loss), there is evidence to suggest that a disproportionate focus on large mammal conservation may have a detrimental effect on other biodiversity values (see Gippoliti and Amori 2004, 2006 and references therein for examples). For example, mouflon continue to be introduced to Mediterranean islands (including protected areas) because they are considered typical of the region (Gippoliti and Amori 2006), even though there is evidence that overgrazing has a significant negative impact on native plants (Fabbri 1966, Greuter 1979, Gippoliti and Amori 2004), and many small Mediterranean islands are regarded as conservation priorities because of the lack of anti-grazing adaptations in the endemic plants (Greuter 2001). It is important that any conservation strategy aimed at maintaining biodiversity and its evolutionary potential takes into account the history (including recent history) of the regional biota, and makes an effort: (1) to identify and direct attention towards ancient endemic species that escaped previous extinction events and are the repository of unique phylogenetic information; and (2) to strike an appropriate balance between conserving large, charismatic mammals (that may in some cases be relatively recent additions to the regional fauna) and protecting other forms of native biodiversity.

4.6 Conservation measures needed

Species frequently require a combination of conservation responses to ensure their continued survival. These responses include legislation, monitoring, research, management of populations, restoration of balance between prey/predator populations, habitat conservation and restoration, land acquisition and management, and even captive breeding and benign introductions for some of the Mediterranean region's most threatened mammal species. For species threatened across their range, limited or local actions are unlikely to be sufficiently strong or coherent to prevent extinction, and coordinated action is required at the regional level. Although this Red List assessment focused on the status of individual species, effective conservation action needs to focus not just on species but also on sites in the wider landscape, considering the heterogeneous and dynamic nature of large territories on which the survival of species depends (the ability to meet species requirements inside and outside protected areas, among different land uses, integrating use and protection across the landscape). In this way, efforts to protect Mediterranean mammals can benefit all Mediterranean species.

As discussed in Section 4.3, a variety of threatening processes are driving species decline and extinction, and the relative importance of these threats varies across different taxa (although there are some important commonalities such as the primary role of habitat loss and degradation in causing species decline). Consequently, the specific conservation measures to be recommended vary between different species and groups of species. The following text gives further detail on the types of measures that are required. This list is by no means exhaustive; further information on the conservation needs of particular species and taxonomic groups (e.g. canids) can be found in the “Conservation Actions” section of each individual species factsheet3, in the series of Conservation Action Plans produced by IUCN Species Survival Commission's Specialist Groups4, and in the Action Plans produced under the Bern Convention for certain priority species in the region.

The Edible Dormouse Glis glis is widely distributed from northern Spain through central and eastern Europe and assessed as Least Concern (LC) in the Mediterranean region. This species was traditionally hunted for subsistence and trade. Photograph © Boris Krystufek.

For bats, the main recommendations on the conservation measures needed are to improve the legal protection framework – all bat species should be legally protected in the Mediterranean region – and to better enforce the existing legislation, for example on the illegal destruction of roosts sites. Another major conservation need relates to the encouragement of more environmentally friendly practices, in particular in agriculture – promoting organic farming (or at least a limited use of pesticides), maintaining old trees, and preserving riparian vegetation, hedgerows and linear habitats to promote connectivity – but also when restoring buildings, through taking into consideration bats' requirements and using non-toxic chemicals for treating timber in roofs. Additionally, dispelling myths about bats and increasing awareness of their ecological importance would improve the image of these species and be a first step towards stopping their persecution. Further research is needed on a number of issues including habitat and foraging requirements, population size and trends, impacts of pesticide use on prey species (such as locusts), and methods to minimize impacts of wind farms; such research would help in targeting conservation actions more effectively.

For non-volant (flightless) small mammals more sustainable agricultural practices are again needed, especially in temperate grassland (steppe) habitats, to prevent habitat loss and degradation both from agricultural intensification and land abandonment. Specific legislation and enforcement of existing measures is needed to prevent the introduction of alien invasive species (as pets or for commercial purposes), as several well-known cases such as that of the American Mink Neovison vison have demonstrated the negative impacts of such imports. Conservation actions should also be aimed at actively raising public awareness of the diversity, importance and threats to small mammals in order to modify their “pest” image and explain their ecological importance. As a number of non-volant small mammals are associated with freshwater ecosystems, measures targeted towards water management (groundwater extraction, artificial banks, dam construction, etc.) should take into consideration the ecological requirements of these species. Finally, further research should be encouraged, including on taxonomy which remains poorly resolved for a number of species.

For large mammals, recommendations include the improvement of management of protected areas (especially through well-trained, empowered and motivated staff) and of the wider environment to ensure that it is wildlife-friendly and that connectivity between different populations of the same species are ensured (for example through corridors). Illegal, uncontrolled, or inadequately regulated hunting is a major problem that has already driven a number of large mammal species to extinction or near-extinction in the Mediterranean region – better enforcement of existing laws and regulations is needed to counter this threat and new legislation may be required in some cases. Several legislative frameworks are addressing large mammals, but efforts should be made to improve the enforcement of these agreements. Species-specific management plans (including the reintroduction of animals in the wild, following IUCN Guidelines for Re-Introductions (IUCN 1998)) have proven to be powerful tools. Additional field studies and monitoring are also needed, in particular in North Africa and the Middle East.

The Middle East Blind Mole Rat Spalax ehrenbergi is considered as Data Deficient (DD). It inhabits dry steppes, semi-desert and cultivated fields in coastal north-east Libya and central coastal Egypt. It is widespread in the eastern Mediterranean and ranges north into Turkey. Photograph © Boris Krystufek.

Restoring habitats and wild prey populations at the landscape level is a key component for the conservation of threatened large carnivores, requiring significant efforts in trans-boundary cooperation. In the case of large herbivores spatial planning, policy and management efforts for the maintenance of managed grazing systems (i.e. preventing rural abandonment and the conversion of grasslands into scrubland) and the altitudinal gradient of habitat requirements is a key conservation measure. Furthermore, education and public involvement programmes among national, regional or local governmental officials (and also among the general public) are needed to raise awareness on the value and best practice for management of large mammals. Large carnivores are very controversial from both a social and an economic standpoint (many people feel frightened by wolves and bears, and large carnivores are frequently blamed for killing livestock), and therefore their conservation is as much a socio-political issue as a biological one. Understanding people's attitudes towards predators and gaining their acceptance is crucial to the success of conservation and management programmes. Innovative ways to manage livestock and compensation payments to cover farmers' losses may be a useful means of gaining local people's acceptance about the current trend of natural re-colonization of large carnivores over large territories in northern Mediterranean countries. Tourism is a growing activity which, when properly managed, has a high potential to raise awareness and demonstrate socio-economic benefits of the maintenance of the large mammal populations that are iconic features of the Mediterranean region's rich and beautiful landscapes.


2 Excluding species assessed as Not Applicable.

3 Available online at www.iucnredlist.org

4 IUCN SSC Conservation Action Plans have been produced for a wide range of Mediterranean species and are freely available for download from the following website, where a complete list can be found: www.iucn.org/about/work/programmes/species/publications___technical_documents/publications/species_actions_plans/

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