The rate of wildlife extinction in Israel and its neighboring countries is among the highest in the world, with one in five species endangered, according to a report released this week.
The report, by the Geneva-based International Union for Conservation of Nature, includes information on the status of nature protection throughout the world. This is the first time it has evaluated the status of species in the Mediterranean basin.
The Mediterranean region is home to an impressive diversity of species, including some unique to the region. The diversity is even more impressive considering the region's small size, the report notes. But is also one of the world's most densely populated areas and draws about one-third of the world's tourists. Both are major factors that endanger and kill out species.
According to the report, entitled "Wildlife in a Changing World," countries will not meet their obligation to reverse species loss by 2010.
The situation is especially bleak for animals in freshwater habitats, including amphibians, marine mammals and many kinds of fish. The major threats to animals are habitat destruction, pollution, uncontrolled fishing and invasive species.
More than half of the Mediterranean's freshwater fish, dolphins and whales are classified as threatened to some degree, as are more than 10 percent of reptiles and mammals. This includes Israel's rare sand cat, as well as a rare species of Egyptian turtle. There are less than 500 monk seals remaining off the coasts of Greece and Turkey.
The Mediterranean is also the most dangerous habitat in the world for sharks - about 42 percent of the 47 shark species there are endangered, compared to a world average of 17 percent. Mediterranean sharks are endangered by pollution and fishing nets, which trap them accidentally.
Sharks are at the top of the marine food chain, which means they regulate other species, limit the spread of disease and help protect the environment, the report notes.
Despite efforts to save endangered Mediterranean animals, some of the damage is already irreversible. Some species are already extinct, including Israel's local species of painted frog, which once made its home in Lake Hula.
The state of nature is no less serious than the world economic crisis, the IUCN states.
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