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Species ahoy
September 8, 2004

Sea Horses
Oceanworld has released about 150 baby seahorses after a successful breeding program. Picture: Robert Pearce

New DNA sampling technology is saving animals facing extinction. But critics say it is merely a distraction from the real issues, writes Lisa Mitchell. In strands rather than pairs this time, species facing extinction are about to board a Frozen Ark to ensure their place in posterity. The international project will be the world's first DNA and tissue bank designed to preserve about 2000 endangered mammals, birds, insects and reptiles. As a temporary measure, however, it raises some sore points of conservation.

Hundreds of species become extinct every week and thousands more are expected to disappear over the next 30 years. While the Federal Government commits billions of dollars to defense and sugar packages, only about $10 million annually goes to the protection of endangered species, says Dr Ray Nias, director of conservation for WWF Australia.

On National Threatened Species Day yesterday Nias added tens of thousands of critters to Australia's endangered species list. "I worry a little bit about these Ark projects because they take the attention away from the big picture," he says.
As of August 2004, about 1600 animals and plants were on Australia's official list (many are stuck in an administration backlog), but on recent analysis of Government figures, Nias reckons the true number is more like 200,000. The Department of Environment and Heritage estimates Australia is home to more than 1 million species. The Government’s action plans, which monitor threats to specific flora and fauna, estimate as much as 20 per cent of some of those groups are at risk.

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