Saving the world's most threatened parks

Eleven countries, from Peru to Zaire and including Tanzania, the Philippines, and the United States, find themselves in the embarrassing position of having some of their prized parks and protected natural areas placed on a new ''most threatened'' list.

The list's purpose is to call public attention to the need for preventing further harm and restoring the areas. It was issued this month by the Geneva-based International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) at a meeting in Spain of some 700 scientists and conservationists from 90 countries. The list had been requested in a resolution adopted two years ago in Bali at the Third World Conference on National Parks.

Some of the sites, such as Tanzania's Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Peru's Manu National Park, and Zaire's Garamba National Park, are long-established, internationally known parks. Others, such as the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park and Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary, both in Florida, are little-known outside of their locality.

Ngorongoro's wildlife is being heavily poached, especially its black rhinoceroses, and the area is threatened by illegal stock grazing and wild fires. Garamba's surviving northern white rhinoceroses, numbering about 10, are also threatened by the same kind of poaching that has reduced the park's elephant population by nearly two-thirds in seven years. In Manu, the danger is from gold prospecting and proposals for a major road, oil and mineral exploitation, and a canal project that would link two river systems.

The two Florida parks, considered as one listing, are threatened by sewage pollution from the Miami area, dredging and landfilling which cloud clear waters needed for coral reefs to grow, damage to reefs from boat moorings, and proposed condominium development.

Among other areas on the list are Mt. Apo National Park in the Philippines, where half the original park has been violated by logging, squatter settlements, and the enroachment of agriculture; and Chile's Juan Fernandez National Park, where introduced animals are causing erosion and alien plants are overwhelming native species.

The list also includes Araguaia National Park in Brazil, Krkonose National Park in Czechoslovakia, the Kutai Game Reserve in Indonesia, Tai National Park in Ivory Coast, and Durmitor National Park in Yugoslavia.

Officials of IUCN's Commission on National Parks and other Protected Areas, who selected the most threatened areas from 43 sites nominated by experts from all parts of the world, said that the 11 parks named are mainly a representative sample of the many threatened areas among more than 3,000 protected natural areas recognized by the United Nations.

Selection of Cape Tribulation National Park in Australia was withdrawn from the most threatened areas after a protest from the Australian government, but remains on the larger list of 43 threatened natural areas.

The IUCN also announced lists of 12 representatives of most threatened animal species and 12 representatives of most threatened plant species. The selection was made by the Union's Species Survival Commission.

The animal species included Brazil's woolly spider monkey; the bumblebee bat of Thailand (the world's smallest mammal); the kouprey, a large wild ox in Southeast Asia; the Sumatran rhinoceros; the northern white rhinoceros which exists only in Zaire's Garamba National Park; the kagu, a unique bird found only in the mountains of New Caledonia; and Queen Alexandra's butterfly, restricted to a small threatened forest area in Papua New Guinea.

Plant species on the list include: the giant rafflesia, the largest flower in the world, measuring about one meter in diameter, found only in Sumatra where it is endangered; Drury's slipper orchid, found only in southern India and not seen in the wild since 1972; the neogomesia, a Mexican cactus; and the African violet. Although a common house plant, the African violet occurs in the wild only in two small places in Tanzania, and is greatly threatened.

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