The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List is a comprehensive inventory which sets criteria to evaluate the extinction risk of a range of biological species and subspecies.

There are nine IUCN Red List categories:

  • Extinct (EX) – No known individuals remaining
  • Extinct in the wild (EW) – Known only to survive in captivity, or as a naturalised population outside its historic range
  • Critically endangered (CR) – Extremely high risk of extinction in the wild
  • Endangered (EN) – High risk of extinction in the wild
  • Vulnerable (VU) – High risk of endangerment in the wild
  • Near threatened (NT) – Likely to become endangered in the near future
  • Least concern (LC) – Lowest risk (does not qualify for a more at-risk category; widespread and abundant taxa are included in this category)
  • Data deficient (DD) – Not enough data to make an assessment of its risk of extinction
  • Not evaluated (NE) – Has not yet been evaluated against the criteria

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) established the Red List in 1963 to objectively categorise the probability of extinction for every species on the planet. Assessments are carried out through vast networks of scientists, conservationists and other stakeholders pooling their knowledge. Red Lists have become the backbone of global conservation as a unified and standardised tool to measure biodiversity loss and inform policy and conservation planning.

The 2016 Red List of Mammals of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland was produced by the Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), with collaboration from the universities of Cape Town and Pretoria’s MammalMAP and the IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC), provincial and national conservation agencies, museums and universities.

The threats that mammals face are broad and complex, and conservationists must tackle multiple ongoing challenges to address them effectively. Habitat loss from agricultural, industrial (including renewable energy) and human settlement expansion continues to impact on key habitats, such as grasslands and wetlands. This expansion also fragments remaining habitats, with most of our larger species left isolated in fenced-off protected areas. Compounding this are projections that climate change is likely to increase drought conditions in the western parts of South Africa.

Agricultural, industrial and settlement expansion also tend to increase the rates of damaging human activities, such as fuel wood harvesting, overgrazing, pollution, electric fence erection and water abstraction, that continue to threaten species that rely on productive and connected habitats such as grasslands, wetlands and riparian corridors. This impacts many species, including the Riverine Rabbit, African Striped Weasel and Spotted-necked Otter.

But all is not doom and gloom. South Africa boasts some real conservation success stories, often driven by cooperation between conservationists and the private sector. The Bontebok, for example, was saved from the brink of extinction by a few prescient landowners in Bredasdorp, and today both the Cape Mountain Zebra and the South African populations of African Lion have been listed as Least Concern, due largely to their expansion on private protected areas. Innovative interventions such as the Badger Friendly Honey Programme, livestock guarding dogs such as the Anatolian Shepher dogs in the Kamiesberg and biodiversity stewardship schemes are beginning to have a positive impact on many species.

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