GB No. 9, autumn 1992


Presently, the survival of some 700 animal species is seriously endangered on the planet. So far 150 species have been declared extinct and many more may soon join them, unless mankind does something to prevent it. It takes millions of years for some species to evolve, though their extinction may be assured in no time at all.

The first organization to initiate the compilation of an official register of endangered species was the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Its Resources.

The first "RED DATA BOOK" was published in 1962, in the form of file binders with interchangeable data cards inside. The list of endangered species was printed on the red cards - hence the name. Ultimately, the fate of all endangered species depends upon man and therefore the RED BOOKS have also been dubbed the BOOKS OF CONSCIENCE.

The extinction of nearly one million species of fauna and flora by the end of the 20th c. is being anticipated by the RED BOOKS as an extremely strong possibility, unless mankind takes some immediate measures to control the irreparable damage being currently done to the natural environment.

Prof. Zbigniew Głowacinski of the Polish Academy of Sciences has demonstrated to me a diagram, illustrating the actual rate of extinction of certain species (vertebrata) on the territories of Germany in Poland, its scope encompassing the period from the turn of the 19th and 20th c. to the present. The depicted progression is not arithmetic but logarithmic, its intensity particularly notable in the 20th century. Although, it is not all that bad in Poland yet, the Professor hastens to add, we have merely initiated this process.

The Polish edition of the RED DATA BOOK was prepared at the Institute for the Protection of Nature and Natural Resources of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Cracow; Prof. Głowaciński its scientific editor.

Here are some of the entries made in the Polish RED DATA BOOK.

The RED BOOK is, in fact, a comprehensive case study: a list of species, the evidence of their predicament, the specific diagnosis, the final recommendations and the clear cut conclusions - everything we need to know to move the species from the red cards to the green ones - the cards of hope, comprising the names of species actually saved from extinction. Once a particular species becomes extinct - that's it. A specific genetic pool disappears from the crust of the Earth and once that happens - it cannot be reverted.

There seems to be a consensus among the Polish naturalists that some of the species that used to inhabit our country may have already become extinct (i.e. European souslik - Cittellus, citellus; great bustard, Otis tarda; Branchinecta paludosa).

Unless the natural habitat of many species are immediately put under the full protection of the law, the future generations might only be able to see some of the presently endangered species on the photographs. It may soon come to the situation that a lesser kestrel - Falco naumanni; peregine falcon - Falco peregrinus; alpinr marmot - Marmota marmota; gray seal - Halichoerus grypus; spotted eagle - Aquila clanga; capercaille - Tetrao urogallus; European pond tortoise - Emys orbucualris; green lizard - Lacerta viridis and sturgeon - Acipenser sturio will be duly put in the register of exinct species.

The zoologists dub some of the species "conservative", like bats, that slowly disappear in the face of human expansion.

Professor Głowaciński regards the capercaillie as most seriously jeopardised. Despite the fact that there are no more than 700 - 800 of them left, it is still being considered a fair game by the hunters. There are only five areas in Poland where the capercaillie can still be encountered in its natural habitat, the Lasy Janowskie forest and the Puszcza Solska forest being two of them, although both habitats have now been seriously affected by an extensive drainage of the marshland areas, especially favoured by the capercaillie, that also happens to belong to the "conservative" group of species, thus being particularly prone to lose out in the face of any manmade adversity.

The Professor also points to great bustard, great snipe, - Gallinago media; jack-snipe - Lymnocryptes minimus as potentially jeopardised, for they can be encountered only in the so called enclave habitats, the last of them lost in the midst of the river Biebrza marshlands. The spotted eagle, for example, the three-toed woodpecker - Picoides tridactylus, the pygmy owl - Glaucidium passerunum and the spotted eagle now can only be encountered in the Puszcza Białowieska forest. Neither the latter nor indeed the former have yet been formally put under the protection order. Prof. Głowaciński is quite positive that the factors most instrumental in the progressively deteriorating situation of some species are: the extensive use of agricultural chemicals, illconceived forestry policies, inappropriate location of large construction sites - usually in the areas that should have been marked out for protection, industrial pollution, salination of rivers, ill-conceived drainage projects of the marshland areas, and lastly - the acid rain.

It would appear, that at least some of them are the attendant attributes of civilisation, though Prof. Głowaciński does not subscribe to this particular view. Some of those factors can be put under control, although not without effort, he claims. The great clean-up of the Rhine proved very successful in Germany. The pollution erstwhile caused by both industrial and municipal waste was nearly eliminated. The river is clean and the arrival of the salmon-like fish is the best proof.

In many cases the progressive degradation of the natural environment can easily be arrested. Sometimes it is enough to give up some hare-brained schemes like the drainage of the river Biebrza marshlands, or construction projects being implemented in the midst of the Puszcza Białowieska forest. The extensive drainage of the marshlands seems to be a particularly vivid example of blatant incompetence in designing the agricultural policies - in many areas of the country, miles upon miles of prime farmland are overgrown with weeds, as there're not enough people to take charge of its cultivation, whilst the river Biebrza marshlands just happen to be absolutely unique in the whole of Europe, as far as the wildlife habitats go.

There is already a general consensus that the river Biebrza marshlands should be promptly turned into a National Park, although no specific decisions as yet have been reached in this matter.

There are so many burning issues being addressed by the Polish RED DATA BOOK, and yet so little time for taking them up. For some of the species, a prompt and well concerted action may simply mean the difference between hope for survival and assured extinction. For some, that hope may have already been lost...

Helena Lazar
"Gazeta Krakowska" 5,6.9.92
Edited & transl. by Sigillum Ltd.

GB No. 9, autumn 1992 | Contents