In releasing the newly revised Red List, a list that evaluates extinction risks of each individual species, on Aug. 28, the Environment Ministry announced that the Japanese river otter has become extinct. This is the first time that a mammal which was living during the Showa Era (1926-1989) has been declared extinct. The river otter was last spotted in 1979 in Susaki, Kochi Prefecture. The ministry also announced that the Japanese black bear in Kyushu has become extinct. The last bear in the region was caught in 1957. The report means that Japan has lost two mammals important to its ecosystem. Pollution was not solely responsible for the extinction of the Japanese river otter, hunting for furs took its toll as well.

In 1993, the Act for the Conservation of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora went into force. But clearly Japan is lagging in measures to protect and increase the population of an endangered species. The possibility cannot be ruled out that the number of extinct species will increase, although there are a few examples where conservation efforts have increased endangered species populations. The government should consider drastically changing the law and improving measures to protect endangered species to maintain Japan’s biodiversity.

Under the law, agents assigned to protect endangered species, including the Environment Ministry, are not given the needed authority to provide adequate protection for species under threat. The law also fails to cover oceanic fish and mammals, such as whales.

The Red List is revised roughly every five years. The new Red List has classified a total of 3,430 species of mammals, birds, insects, plants, etc., as critically endangered, an increase of 419 from the previous Red List. This shows environmental conditions for plants and animals are deteriorating rapidly.

In addition to the medaka fish, which was already classified as a critically endangered species, the new list has placed the clam, the leopard frog and the Japanese predacious diving beetle in the same category. With the exception of the clam, the populations of the species living in rice paddies have dwindled.

Attention must be paid to the fact that while the productive capacity of rice paddies has increased, the increased use of agricultural chemicals and the intrusion of foreign species has damaged the habitat of the native species.

Human activity, such as development projects and the failure to manage forests properly, is also contributing to the extinction of species. In writing a new strategy for securing biodiversity, the national government should present a clearer vision and map out in detail the efforts and strategies it intends to implement to provide greater protection to endangered species. It’s also important to devise ways to heighten public awareness and involve them in conservation programs. Banning the acquisition and sale of more endangered species should also be implemented

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