National Red Lists in Venezuela: adapting the process and increasing outreach


The first edition of the Venezuelan Red List was published in 1995, following the prioritization of National Red Listing in the 1988-1992 National Species Conservation Plan. The process was originally steered by the Venezuelan non-governmental organization Provita, with financial support from the Wildlife Conservation Society, with the aim of identifying the animal taxa threatened with extinction in Venezuela (vertebrate and invertebrate), and assessing their conservation status. This was followed in 1999 by a second edition which included an appendix updated with new information gathered since the first edition of the Red List. In 2001, the IUCN revised the Red List Categories and Criteria to their current status, and this – together with the fact that much more data had become available on Venezuela’s fauna since the Red List’s first edition – prompted a reassessment of the Venezuelan Red Book.

For the first two editions of the Red List, published in 1995 and 1999, the assessment process was primarily overseen by an Advisory Committee which comprised a total of 31 people chosen for their knowledge and experience on various taxonomic groups of Venezuelan fauna. From a preliminary list of potentially threatened species, a directory of species experts was compiled and questionnaires were sent to around 130 experts from within and outside Venezuela to gather additional data and an initial extinction risk assessment for 367 taxa.

Data processing and analysis consisted in summarizing the information available for each species (mainly classification, distribution, population size, trends, threats and conservation actions implemented or recommended), comparing and contrasting the opinion of different experts regarding the categories assigned to each species, and validating the assessments. In a number of cases, reaching consensus on the extinction risk of a species was made difficult by experts recommending vastly different categories for the same species; however, in most cases, assessments from different experts complemented each other.

Participation in the 2008 edition of the Venezuelan Red Book was much increased: for example, the editorial team itself was composed of two primary editors, 8 associate editors, 81 authors of species summary data sheets, 20 illustrators and 11 photographers. An effort was made to illustrate all species with summary data sheets, every data sheet was authored by one or more person, and all chapters had an associate editor responsible for coordinating the work within a taxonomic group. The process was decentralized, and once a taxonomic group had been assessed and the data sheets written, all the information was sent to the primary editors for final processing. As a result of this renewed effort, and in contrast to the first two editions of the Red List (which only assessed a relatively small number of taxa), the 2008 edition evaluated all species of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and freshwater fishes.  Marine fishes, particularly sharks, rays, chimaeras and related species (Class Chondrichthyes), could not be assessed due to lack of information, so the Venezuelan species included in the global IUCN Red List were identified, and the global category used as their national category. Only a small sample of invertebrates was assessed in the third edition.  This included those species in the first two editions, those included in international lists or other publications (such as the IUCN Red List) that reported Venezuela as part of their range, and any species recommended by an associate editor.

The Venezuelan National Red List has become somewhat of a bestseller and a conservation success story. It is regularly cited by newspapers and other broadcasters, used in schools, and there are copies in all branches of the National Library. This was probably helped by the fact that soon after the publication of the first edition, a major Venezuelan book foundation, Fundalibro, selected the Red Book of Venezuelan Fauna as the best educational book for a general audience of 1996.  In 2006, one of the most important Venezuelan newspapers, El Nacional, published a list of the 63 most influential books in Venezuela in the previous 63 years (to commemorate the newspapers 63rd anniversary). The Red Book of Venezuelan Fauna was one of the two scientific publications chosen. In 2008, new bills were put into circulation by the Central Bank which depicted illustrations of threatened species taken directly from the Red Book of Venezuelan Fauna.

More importantly, and demonstrating that National red Lists can be rapidly translated into conservation policy, in 1996, the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources published two official decrees, listing all species banned for hunting and those in danger of extinction, respectively. A quick examination showed that the lists issued by the Ministry had been influenced by the contents of the book. Whether these societal impacts have indeed positive effects on the conservation status of Venezuela’s fauna remains to be seen. For the time being, however, the case of Venezuela shows that National Red Lists can contribute considerably not only to conservation planning and policy, but also to the communication about the state of nature to a wider national audience.

This case study was adapted from Collen et al. (2013).