Click to read: Scaling up small mammal conservation

Scaling up small mammal conservation

Formed in 2011, the IUCN SSC Small Mammal Specialist Group (SMSG) is an expanding global network of scientists and conservationists who are experts on small mammals and share a passion for the world’s rodents, shrews, moles, solenodons, hedgehogs and tree-shrews. What you might not know however, is that this group is co-chaired by Durrell’s Dr Richard Young, and is managed on a day-to-day basis by Durrell’s Dr Ros Kennerley.

2016 was a huge year for the SMSG group, and 2017 looks set to be even bigger! Below, Dr Ros Kennerley tells us more about this important group and their plans for the future.

Malagasy Giant Jumping Rat (Hypogeomys antimena) is an SMSG species that Durrell has in captivity.  Photo credit: Gregory Guida (below)

So who is the SMSG and how does it all work?

We are one of more than 120 Specialist Groups, 35 of which exist for mammals. These serve as scientific advisory bodies to the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organisation.

The group is overseen by two Co-Chairs. Here at Durrell, our Head of Conservation Science Dr Richard Young is one of these chairs and I support him as the Programme Officer for the group. Dr Tom Lacher is the second chair and he is based at Texas A&M University, where he has a dynamic group of students working on a number of small mammal projects.

We are supported by an expanding global network of scientists and conservationists who are experts on small mammals. We have well over 2800 species of small mammal in our group, which is made up of rodents, shrews, moles, hedgehogs, solenodons, and tree-shrews. To give you an idea of the challenge we face in working on these species, our one group represents over half of all mammal species in the world!

Many members of our group are volunteers, and we really wouldn’t be able to function without them. They conduct fieldwork and lab research, and donate their time and knowledge to improve the world’s scientific understanding of the taxonomy, ecology and conservation status of species within the group.

Gerald Durrell holding a Russian Desman (Desmana moschata). This species has been moved from Vulnerable to Endangered on the Red List. Photo credit: Lee Durrell (right)

But why should we care about small mammals?

Generally, small mammals are overlooked in favour of charismatic large mammals. They have a history of being understudied and have been severely under-represented both in terms of conservation funding and actions. This means that for the majority of species within the SMSG there is still a lot to learn about them and we need to encourage more people to undertake research and to conserve them.

So tell us what you were working on last year in 2016?

The task that dominated our work in 2016 was the updating of the IUCN Red List accounts for species in our group. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species is widely recognized as the most comprehensive global approach for evaluating the conservation status of plant and animal species and is a crucial first step in order to guide further conservation actions.

There was a huge amount to do, but by December we had over two thousand species reassessed and the remaining 800+ nearing completion, so we have very nearly finished. This process involves lots of people and a number of different organisations.  The SMSG team, along with the Global Mammal Assessment team based at Sapienza University in Rome and the Red List unit in Cambridge all work together to produce the assessments. Crucially, we call upon a wide network of experts from all around the world to help us to add new information and assess the species.

Ros Kennerley presenting information about Caribbean SMSG species on a trip to Haiti (below)

What does 2017 have in store for the group?

Our plan for this year is to undertake three different programmes of work. Firstly, we think that zoos could play a much greater role in captive breeding for conservation purposes and provide funding and expertise to in-situ conservation efforts. So, we would like to influence zoos’ contributions to small mammal conservation and to do this we have a plan of work to achieve this that involves research and a series of ex-situ needs assessments, which will involve convening global expertise for a series of regional planning workshops. 

For the second programme, we would like to identify key small mammal species and find and develop individuals and small organisations who can play huge roles in championing species conservation efforts.

Lastly, we would like to build conservation capacity in key small mammal regions. Analysis of the latest Red List data will provide information on where these regions are around the world, so that we can target areas with particularly high densities of Globally Threatened and also Data Deficient species.

Stay tuned for more information and exciting developments from the SMSG in 2017. If you would like to find out more about the group, please visit:

Posted 23 January 2017

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