Refuges of Endangered Species Mapped, Providing Opportunity to Prevent Global Species Extinctions

Global assessment delivers blueprint to help stem “sixth mass extinction wave.”

Contact: Amy Upgren, Alliance for Zero Extinction Program Officer, Phone: 540-253-5780 | Email:

The stunning Araripe Manakin is one of the Brazil Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) species. Photo by Ciro Albano. Additional photos available on request.

The Araripe Manakin is one of the Brazil Alliance for Zero Extinction species. Photo by Ciro Albano. Additional photos available on request.

(Washington, D.C., November 14, 2018) A major assessment by the international Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) – the global conservation partnership that works to identify, map, and safeguard sites holding the only known locations of highly threatened species – has created a global blueprint to address what many scientists believe is the sixth extinction wave. Many in the international conservation community believe that with action, hundreds of extinctions can be prevented.

The new analysis – the culmination of a three-year effort led by BirdLife International, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and American Bird Conservancy (ABC) – mapped the ranges of 1,483 highly threatened species, each of which is restricted to one of 853 sites around the world. (Some sites have multiple species restricted to them.) To qualify for AZE status, a site must be the last known location of an Endangered or Critically Endangered species – the two highest extinction threat categories on the IUCN Red List of Threatened SpeciesTM.

(New AZE website and map available here:

Dr. Ian Burfield, Global Science Coordinator at BirdLife International and lead coordinator of the new AZE site assessment, says: “We now recognize 853 AZE sites – far more of these ‘last chance saloons' for species than previously known. In order to save any species, the number-one priority is to protect their habitats, but 43 percent of these sites currently lack any formal protection.”

This work falls under a wider project, led by BirdLife International and American Bird Conservancy and supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and United Nations Environment Programme, working with the governments of Brazil, Chile, Madagascar, and other countries to better integrate AZE sites into their national land-use planning and conservation efforts.

“It's been proven that well-managed protected areas prevent extinctions,” says Mike Parr, AZE Chairman and President of ABC. “The governments of at least 20 nations are already acting to protect their AZE sites, but we urgently need all 109 countries and territories with AZE sites to take action to protect these unique places.”

Brazil, one of the countries with the most AZE sites, is taking a leading role by becoming the first country to put in place legislation to ensure AZE sites are taken into account in national development and conservation planning. Brazil is now calling for other parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to support initiatives to conserve AZE sites at the upcoming United Nations Biodiversity Summit in Egypt, which takes place November 17 to 29.

Ugo Eichler Vercillo, Director of the Department of Species Conservation and Management in the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment, says: “With some way still to go to meet agreed global targets to increase protected areas and tackle species declines, protecting AZE sites would be the fastest way to achieve both at the same time, and should be a global conservation priority.”

The newly released AZE data update demonstrates that effective protection does work, with several former AZE species being removed from the list as a result. In Colombia, for example, the establishment of the Ranita Dorada Amphibian Reserve protects two spectacular species of poison-dart frogs (Andinobates dorisswansonae and Andinobates tolimense) and has improved their status to the extent that neither now qualifies as an AZE trigger species.

Craig Hilton-Taylor, Head of the IUCN Red List, says: “From the Amazon to Australia, well-informed conservation action is working to safeguard species. We are living in a period of the sixth mass extinction. It is therefore important we learn from conservation success stories, such as those in Colombia, to protect species that are threatened with extinction. As world leaders meet in Egypt next week to discuss the future of biodiversity after 2020, it is these positive stories they should learn from in order to set tangible targets and achievable conservation goals.”

However, with habitat loss and other threats wiping out the world's wildlife at an alarming pace, the need to safeguard the world's remaining AZE sites has never been more urgent. Just two months ago, BirdLife International announced that it is set to confirm the likely extinction in the wild of eight further bird species, including the iconic Spix's Macaw of Brazil – as the species that inspired the animated character Blu, from the film Rio. To save this species from extinction, the Brazilian government plans, next year, to reintroduce captive Spix's Macaws at the AZE site where they most recently were found.

Dr Noëlle Kümpel, Head of Policy at BirdLife International and coordinator of the project, says: “The loss of these eight species from the wild is a real wake-up call, but with concerted action it is not too late to turn things around for others.  AZE sites really are our last chance – if we lose these areas, we lose entire species found nowhere else on Earth. The threats to these sites from unsustainable development are only increasing, so we urgently need other governments to join with Brazil and to put in place strong measures to protect these irreplaceable places.”


Notes for editors

About the 2018 AZE reassessment
Sites qualifying for AZE status must meet three criteria: (1) Endangerment: An AZE site must contain at least one globally Endangered (EN) or Critically Endangered (CR) species, as listed on the IUCN Red List. (2) Irreplaceability: An AZE site should only be designated if it is the sole area where an EN or CR species occurs, contains the overwhelmingly significant known resident population (>95%) of the EN or CR species, or contains the overwhelmingly significant known population (>95%) for one life history segment (e.g. breeding or wintering) of the EN or CR species. (3) Discreteness: The area must have a definable boundary within which the character of habitats, biological communities, and/or management issues have more in common with each other than they do with those in adjacent areas.

From 2015 to 2018, a team comprising BirdLife International, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and American Bird Conservancy (ABC) reviewed, updated, and expanded the AZE data set as part of a three-year project supported by United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) and funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). Since it was first launched in 2005 and updated in 2010, the AZE data set had become increasingly out of date, owing to changes in taxonomy, new IUCN Red List assessments, improved knowledge of the distributions and populations of species, and genuine changes in species' conservation status. The current update focused on the following taxonomic groups, all of which had been comprehensively assessed for the IUCN Red List by the end of 2016: amphibians, birds, cacti, cone snails, conifers, corals, cycads, freshwater crabs, freshwater crayfish, freshwater shrimps, mammals, mangrove plants, selected marine fish (blennies, groupers, pufferfish, wrasses), selected reptiles (chameleons, crocodiles, iguanas, tortoises, turtles), sharks, rays, and selected birches.

The 2018 update involved extensive consultation with an international network of more than 150 species experts and key stakeholders around the world. The resulting inventory comprises 853 AZE sites triggered by 1,483 highly threatened species in 109 countries and territories (many sites have more than one AZE species confined to them). Most of the newly identified sites relate to those triggered by taxa that had not been comprehensively assessed at the time the previous AZE assessment took place in 2010. All confirmed AZEs are now also Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs). From 2019 onward, it will be possible for anyone to nominate potential AZE sites for relevant qualifying species as candidate KBAs.

AZE by the numbers:
Of the 1,483 global AZE trigger species, 41 percent are amphibians, 15 percent mammals, 13 percent birds, 10 percent freshwater crustaceans, 9 percent cacti, 4 percent cycads and 8 percent other taxa.

78 percent of the 853 AZE sites are triggered by a single species, but some sites are triggered by multiple species from different taxonomic groups. Some extreme examples include:

133 (16 percent) of the 853 AZE sites are triggered by birds. Some examples of sites triggered by multiple bird species include:

 Case studies:

 New AZE sites/species
AZE is an important tool for identifying threatened sites and prompting specific conservation recovery schemes. Examples of newly identified sites:

 AZE species removed from the list
The 2018 AZE site update removed 107 species that had formerly triggered AZE sites. Several of these were due to successful conservation action and improved site management motivated by their AZE listing. For example:

There are also more discouraging examples of species removal from the list. For example:

 AZE sites remaining on the list

About the project

The GEF-AZE project
The three-year GEF-funded project ‘Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE): Conserving Earth's Most Irreplaceable Sites for Endangered Biodiversity' aims to prevent species extinctions at priority sites identified through the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE).  Led by BirdLife International, project partners include American Bird Conservancy (ABC), IUCN, UN Environment, GEF, and the Governments of Brazil, Chile, and Madagascar.

 Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE)
Launched globally in 2005, the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) was established to identify and effectively conserve the most important sites in the world for preventing imminent species extinctions. The Alliance comprises more than 90 non-governmental biodiversity conservation organizations, and engages with governments, multilateral institutions, the private sector, and others to achieve its goals.

Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs)
AZEs are a subset of KBAs, which are 'sites contributing significantly to the global persistence of biodiversity.' A Global Standard for the identification of KBAs was launched in 2016. Confirmed AZE sites represent those KBAs identified under criterion A1e in this Standard. Over 15,000 KBAs have been identified to date, in terrestrial, freshwater, and marine realms and in all countries worldwide. The KBA Partnership was launched in 2016 to advance the identification, documentation, update, monitoring, and conservation of KBAs worldwide. The Partnership comprises: BirdLife International, International Union for the Conservation of Nature, Amphibian Survival Alliance, Conservation International, Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, Global Environment Facility, Global Wildlife Conservation, NatureServe, Rainforest Trust, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Wildlife Conservation Society, and World Wildlife Fund. Data on KBAs and information on the KBA Partnership and program are available at

Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
The 14th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – otherwise known as the UN Biodiversity Summit – will be held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, 17-29 November 2018.  Parties will be reviewing progress towards the Convention's Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, which includes 20 Aichi Biodiversity Targets to be met by 2020, before considering the process for developing a transformative new post-2020 global biodiversity framework that will ensure nature is at the heart of sustainable development.  AZE sites are the last strongholds for species on the brink of extinction, and protecting them offers a fast track to help achieve Aichi Targets 11 (on increasing protected and conserved areas) and 12 (on preventing species extinctions).


About the assessment leading partners

BirdLife International is the world's largest nature conservation partnership, made up of 117 national NGOs (one per country), regional secretariats in six continents, and an international secretariat based in Cambridge, UK.  BirdLife strives to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources. BirdLife plays a key role in the provision of data, information and tools on species conservation (e.g. BirdLife is the Red List Authority for birds on the IUCN Red List, and led the development of the Red List Index) and critical sites for biodiversity and ecosystem services (e.g. Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas/IBAs, Key Biodiversity Areas/KBAs, Alliance for Zero Extinction/AZE sites, Integrated Biodiversity Assessment Toolkit/IBAT and Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-Based Assessment/TESSA).  BirdLife is the lead partner of the GEF-AZE project.

 American Bird Conservancy is a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.orgFacebookInstagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).

IUCN is a membership Union composed of both government and civil society organisations. It harnesses the experience, resources, and reach of its more than 1,300 Member organisations and the input of more than 10,000 experts. This year, IUCN celebrates its 70th anniversary. Since its establishment in 1948 in the French town of Fontainebleau, IUCN has become the global authority on the status of the natural world and the measures needed to safeguard it.


Search Our Database of Past Press Releases and Stories

*You must make at least one selection from any one of the following fields. Results will appear below the form.