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Migratory species at risk across the planet, UN warns

PARIS: From African elephants searching for water to turtles crossing seas to nest and to albatrosses on their ocean-spanning search for food, the world's migratory species are under threat across the planet, according to a landmark report Monday.

The first-ever State of the World's Migratory Species assessment, which focuses on the 1,189 species covered by the UN Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), found that one in five is threatened with extinction and 44 percent are seeing their populations decline.

Humans are to blame — by destroying or breaking up habitats, hunting and polluting areas with plastics, chemicals, light and noise.

Climate change also threatens to interfere with migration routes and timings — by altering seasonal conditions.

«We are finding out the phenomenon of migration itself is under threat,» CMS chief Amy Fraenkel told Agence France-Presse, adding that the report should be a «wake-up call about what's happening.»

The report is released as over 130 signatory countries — with the notable absence of the United States, China, Canada and Russia — gather for a conference in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, from February 12 to 17.

Migratory species often rely on very specialized sites to feed and mate, and their journeys between them can cross international borders and even continents.

Iconic species that make some of the most extraordinary journeys across the planet include the monarch butterfly, the humpback whale and the loggerhead turtle.

«Today's report sets out the evidence that unsustainable human activities are jeopardizing the future of migratory species,» said Inger Andersen, head of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

Hunting, farming, fishing

Among the chief threats are agriculture and fishing.

Farming can destroy habitat, Fraenkel said, while «bycatch» by fishing vessels — when other fish or animals become ensnared by fishing gear — is the biggest continued threat for whales.

She said that while habitat destruction is considered the main risk to migratory animals, for some species, the report found that it was «intentional killing,» either for wild meat or sport or because the animals are thought of as