Menu Menu

Human activity is pushing most migratory species to the brink of extinction

According to a new UN report, 1 in 5 migratory animals are threatened with extinction. By publishing the research, the organisation hopes that success stories included in the report will spark collective conservation action around the globe.

Every year, billions of animals embark on epic journeys across the world’s continents and oceans.

These adventures – propelled by the need to find shelter, to mate, and to find food – occur in tandem with the delicate ebbs and flows of the Earth’s ecosystems. As a result, the continued patterns of migratory animals can serve as key indicators of environmental health.

Despite their importance, a detailed assessment of migratory animals’ conservation status has been lacking from scientific research.

In a report released by the United Nations, scientists investigated the 1,189 migratory species that currently require international protection under the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS).

This first-of-its-kind study paints a grim picture of the challenges nomadic creatures face.

According to the findings, nearly half of these species (44 percent) are experiencing population declines, with over one-fifth of them classified as on the brink of extinction.

Iconic creatures like the steppe eagle, Egyptian vulture, and the wild camel have seen their numbers dwindle over the past three decades, signalling a troubling trend in population and biodiversity loss.

Marine species are of particular concern, with nearly all listed fish—including sharks and rays—facing a looming threat of extinction. Since the 1970s, their populations have plummeted by 90 percent.

The report points to human activity as the primary cause behind these declines.

Habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation threaten three-quarters of migratory species, while overexploitation – ranging from intentional capture to incidental harm – threatens seven out of ten.

Inger Andersen, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, underscores the urgent need for action, stating, ‘Today’s report clearly shows us that unsustainable human activities are jeopardizing the future of migratory species.’

‘The global community has an opportunity to translate this latest science of the pressures facing migratory species into concrete conservation action. Given the precarious situation of many of these animals, we cannot afford to delay, and must work together to make the recommendations a reality.’

Although these discoveries are worrying, there is hope on the horizon if humans are willing to act.

The report uses success stories from Cyprus as an example. Concerted conservation efforts on the island have seen illegal bird netting activity fall by 91 percent, allowing their populations to recover.

In Kazakhstan, where conservation and habitat restoration measures have been amplified, the Saiga Antelope has been brought back from the brink of extinction.

That said, over half of the key biodiversity areas crucial for migratory species lack protected status, leaving them vulnerable to poaching as they change locations throughout the year.

Safeguarding vital habitats and reversing the decline of migratory species will require coordinated global action. In the report, the scientists urge governing officials to turn the UN’s scientific findings into substantial conservation measures that reach far and wide.

As the world grapples with the sad reality of biodiversity loss, migratory species serve as a reminder of the fragility of the natural world – and how important it is for communities to band together to preserve it.