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The United Nations has named 2010 Biodiversity Year, launching a year of special awareness around the world - and in Israel - of the threat of extinction faced by many species.

According to data released by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, about one fifth of the world's mammal species, one eighth of its bird species and one third of all amphibian species are endangered.

The organization said that many countries have not met their commitments to taking action to slow down extinction rates that includes expanding nature reserves and halting deforestation and construction plans.

To mark the start of Biodiversity Year the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel commissioned a survey to determine the level of public awareness about extinction.

According to a poll of 500 Israelis conducted by Market Watch, 78 percent believe there are fewer animals now than in the past and 71 percent believe there will be even fewer in the future. Forty-five percent of the respondents said the decrease of open spaces and uncontrolled construction were the main threats to wild animals. Almost one third said that greater enforcement and a ban on hunting were needed to better protect nature.

Despite its small size Israel has tremendous biodiversity, SPNI ecologist Dr. Amir Perelberg said, with 100 species of mammals, 100 species of reptiles and some 2,800 species of wild plants. However, 75 wild plant species have become extinct since the mid-20th century.

Lost species

According to the SPNI's ornithological center, Israel has lost a number of raptor species in recent decades, including the Cinereous vulture and the bearded vulture.

According to data published by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, most of the country's amphibians are endangered, including various species of frogs and toads. Spotted leopards are now on the verge of extinction and can be found only in the Arava, and gazelles are rare.

As part of efforts to increase awareness of endangered species, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature will publish on its Web site an endangered "species of the day," which has so far included the polar bear and a species of East African toad.