Migratory species in trouble – COP-CMS 14 in Samarkand

U.N. Report Paints Dire Picture for Migratory Species

In February, Director Jennifer Castner and staff of Biodiversity Research on Conservation Center (BRCC) traveled to Samarkand, Uzbekistan to participate in the 14th Conference of the Parties to the Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Species (COP-CMS) held in Samarkand, Uzbekistan from 12-17 February 2024.

Migratory species—mammals, birds, fish, and insects that systematically traverse hundreds or thousands of miles across a diverse range of habitats—face an uncertain future, according to the first-ever report on the State of the World’s Migratory Species.

The landmark assessment was released at the gathering. The report, which focuses on the nearly 1,200 species covered by the U.N. Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) of Wild Animals, revealed some alarming trends. Nearly half (44 percent) of CMS-listed species are showing population declines and more than one in five (22 percent) are threatened with extinction. Fish are in a particularly perilous state: nearly all (97 percent), including migratory sharks, rays, and sturgeons, face a high risk of extinction.

Migratory species play an essential role in maintaining the world’s complex ecosystems, and provide vital benefits, by pollinating plants, transporting key nutrients, preying on pests, and helping to store carbon.

THREATS TO MIGRATORY SPECIES

Migratory species—due to their mobility, reliance on multiple habitats, and dependence on connectivity between different sites—are exposed to a range of threats caused by human activity. These include:

  • Over-exploitation (unsustainable hunting and over-fishing)
  • Habitat loss from human activities (agriculture, expansion of transport and energy infrastructure).
  • Fragmentation of migratory species’ pathways
  • Climate change, where changing temperatures and conditions force some species to travel farther or migrate at different times can affect availability of prey or mates
  • Pollution and invasive species

Our delegation tracked working groups and recommendations for increased protection of key migratory species including Saker Falcon, Great Bustard, and Pallas’s Cat. The latter species was added to Appendix II of the CMS, bringing additional resources and attention to bear on this under-studied cat species that faces significant threats in Central Asia - a significant step in the right direction!

CONSERVATION

While there have been a handful of conservation success stories for CMS species, the report’s findings underscore the need for greater international action. A top priority is to map and take steps to protect locations that serve as breeding, feeding, and stopover sites for migratory species. More than half (by area) of the nearly 10,000 Key Biodiversity Areas identified as important for CMS-listed migratory species are not designated as protected or conserved areas.

The report lays out additional suggestions for reversing population declines of CMS species. One recommendation is to strengthen and expand efforts to tackle illegal and unsustainable taking of migratory species, as well as incidental capture of non-target species. The report also calls for urgency in addressing species, such as fish, that are in most danger of extinction.

More positively, the report shows that population and species-wide recoveries are possible. A notable example is conservation efforts in Kazakhstan that brought the Saiga Antelope back from the brink of extinction.

The Convention on Migratory Species, which came into force in 1979, aims to conserve species that move across international borders to determine whether conservation efforts are working.