FALSE claims of 'Endangered' species

I think it will be useful to compile (starting August 2016) an alphabetical listing by genus and species of all the plants which I have come across which local botanists claim that are 'endangered' and frequently 'endemic' in the Western Himalaya.  These emotive terms should and do have clear scientifically precise meanings.  It seems that those using them for Western Himalayan species do not actually  understand what these terms actually mean; as for 'endemic', they have not checked records of these species from bordering countries/states - or do not have access to such information? If the latter is the case, they have no business suggesting they are endemic, as those reading these articles seldom bother to check (or, perhaps, do not know how to).  Unfortunately, it seems the vast majority of scientists publishing articles nowadays blindly accept what information is provided in articles and other publications.  They should check the information before using it in their research or referring to it in what the plant to publish.  IF the information/records/data which is published cannot be trusted (relied upon) then the whole system of publication in scientific journals breaks down.  It is incumbent upon all scientists to ensure that what they publish is accurate.  To deliberately mislead other scientists is unacceptable.  It requires hard work and dedication to sustain scientific research. Such rigour is increasingly absent, indeed appears to be discouraged.

The relevant IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) categories (according to Wikipedia) are: Threatened which is divided into Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable, then Lower Risk divided into Near Threatened, Conservation Dependent and Least Concern also Data Deficient and Not Evaluated.  A fundamental problem is that ALL species in the Western Himalaya (and many other parts of the world) are "data deficient".  Thanks to the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland, which has hundreds of active volunteer amateur field botanists who operate to professional standard the UK's plants are better known than anywhere in the world but such a level of familiarity with a country's flora is exceptional - international bodies and organisations should realise that records/information of a comparable standard exists only for a small number of countries.  One must not forget that the Himalaya are vast, travelling in them is arduous. Exploring and surveying in detail is demanding and difficult, even dangerous, especially at high altitude and on steep slopes - many of which are inaccessible unless one is a skilled rock climber or can abseil down a cliff.  Added to which, border disputes and militant action, has meant that many border areas have been "out-of-bounds" for long periods since Indian Independence.  Collaboration between Indian and Pakistani or Chinese botanists is minimal - so botanists in the Indian Himalaya frequently have little or know idea which plant species have been recorded in recent times in bordering countries or even bordering states in India. The information to proclaim which species are 'rare & endangered' is just not there.  There are very few skilled field botanists in India and they seldom venture into the mountains and when they do, this is mostly by vehicle and following the main routes/tracks - they often do not go far from their jeeps  There are very few amateur botanists in India and they, no matter how keen, are hampered by a lack of reliable reference materials to be able to accurately & reliably identify the plants they see (as are the botanists who hold professional positions at universities and institutes).  There is no RELIABLE checklist for the Western Himalaya (assorted lists exist but most are either completely out-of-date or full of misidentifications).  There is no full flora.  Yes, 'Flowers of the Himalaya' was published (more than 30 years ago) but this is merely a preliminary guide to a fraction of the total number of species present - it is not a full flora and one often cannot reliably name flowers but solelyl matching with the small photos in this book!

Returning to the definitions, I consider the IUCN have made a fundamental error in claiming that all the common, abundant (even cosmopolitan invasive weeds) species all over the world still come into the 'Least Concern' category.  How can conservation be taken seriously by the general public and governments around the world if the vast majority of plants still are considered to be of concern!  This is misleading and unscientific and should be altered IMMEDIATELY. It will do lasting damage to the credibility of the organisation.  I am disappointed that senior figures have not questioned it and had it changed......  Why not?

I also gain the impression that IUCN 'actively encourages' FALSE claims of species being in some way 'endangered' - let not a lack of EVIDENCE prevent such claims!  It seems this has been embraced by Indian botanists, leading to INCORRECT submissions (and their acceptance) under Appendices in CITES (see: https://sites.google.com/a/shpa.org.uk/main/cites).

For a species to be defined as 'Critically Endangered' in the 'Red List', a species must occur over less than 100 square km (which would generally mean it would need to be 'endemic' to a state or country) and two of the following: A severe habitat fragmentation or existing at just one location; decline in extent of occurrence, area/quality of habitat, number of locations; extreme fluctuations in extent of occurrence, number of locations; B as A but less than 10 square km; C declining population; D a very small number; E at least 50% chance of going extinct in the wild in 10 years.

There are likely to be some 'Critically Endangered' species in the Western Himalaya but neither I (who is the most widely travelled field botanist covering this region able to identify many species when travelling in the Himalaya and who knows how to accurately and reliably identify plants) nor Indian botanists, know which ones they are rare.  What I can say is when a species which is CLAIMED to be 'Critically Endangered' is DEFINTELY not (when I am familiar with it in numerous places growing in healthy populations and it has been recorded by others from other places) - in fact almost all (including those listed under CITES)  with are claimed to be 'Rare & Endangered' in the hundreds of publications (in a variety of journals), are not!  Almost all are not even 'Conservation Dependent', nor 'Near Threatened' nor 'Vulnerable' nor 'Endangered' !!!!  Yes, I have evidence to support what I say.

Beyond dispute, if a species which is claimed to be ENDEMIC (which means restricted to a set area/district/state/country) is in fact found in bordering countries (and beyond), then it CANNOT be 'Critically Endangered' i.e. occurring in no more than 100 square km.   A quick check of the known distribution of the 100+ species claimed to be endemic in one article showed that somewhere between 2/3rds to 3/4 were not endemic.  Just what is going on?  How can the authors not know they are publishing false information?

Similarly, if other botanists have easily been able to locate many populations of species, it can hardly been described as 'rare'., let alone 'critically endangered' i.e. about to become extinct.  It is only practical to attempt to conserve a strictly limited number of species, so to 'identify' the wrong ones, means one is abandoning the genuinely 'rare' ones to their fate.  There is something seriously and fundamentally wrong here.

If the typical places a place inhabits are steep rocky ground including very steep slopes and cliff faces, then this habitat is not under threat (e.g. Meconopsis aculeata).  For a number of the species listed, healthy populations exist which are only accessible to extreme rock climbers or those with abseiling equipment.  I have yet to hear of Indian botanists surveying for plants using rock-climbing equipment. And few spend much time scrambling amongst boulders and cliffs at 3600-5000m to check colonies of these 'supposedly' endangered species......


Aquilegia nivalis - this species is not endemic to Kashmir; it is found on alpine slopes, screes & amongst rocks @ 3000-4000m from Pakistan to Himachal Pradesh
Aconitum kashmiricum - this species is not endemic to Kashmir; the genus is difficult taxonomically, so it is unlikely that its full distribution is known; Stewart recorded it from 2400-3300m in Pakistan & Kashmir
Artemisia amygdalina- this is a very difficult genus identification-wise; the distribution of species is thus imperfectly known; Stewart recorded this from Pakistan to Kashmir, in forest borders and clearings - no suggestion it was uncommon, let alone in any way endangered
Gentiana cachemirica - this species is not endemic to Kashmir; it is common in rock crevices @ 2400-3900m from Pakistan to Kashmir
Hedysarum cachemirianum - this is quite common on rocky slopes in Kashmir; from Pakistan to Kashmir @ 2700-4000m; nothing to suggest it is in any way endangered 
Lagotis cashmeriana - this species is not endemic to Kashmir; it is common on alpine slopes @ 3300-4500m from Pakistan to Himachal Pradesh - it grows abundantly on a well-known pass is the upper Kulu Valley in Himachal Pradesh!
Meconopsis aculeata - PREPOSTEROUS; this species is widespread, indeed abundant on suitable rocky slopes & amongst damp rocks, Pakistan through to Uttaranachal @ 3000-4000m
Meconopsis latifolia - this does appear to be a genuine endemic to Kashmir and is certainly less widespread than M.aculeata but as some of the known locations are in Pakistan territory they are not accessible to botanists from Indian-controlled Kashmir, so it is impossible to assess it status accurately; there has certainly  confusion between the two species; I myself walked past a colony of M.latifolia several times in the 1980s, thinking it was only M.aculeata which I had come across numerous times....
Megacarpaea bifida - this is much more restricted in its distribution; as far as I can tell, most known locations are in Pakistan territory, so not accessible to botanists in Indian-controlled Kashmir, so it is impossible for them to accurately assess its status
Megacarpaea polyandra - this is not endemic to Kashmir, being found in Pakistan and through to Central Nepal! It is known from open slopes & in light forests @ 3000-4300m; such habitats have not been sufficiently surveyed to assess its status
Rhododendron anthopogon - PREPOSTEROUS; this species is common & gregarious in alpine shrubberies & on open slopes from Pakistan to SE Tibet @ 3000-4800m.
Saussurea costus - it is impossible to judge its original distribution as it seems to have been cultivated for hundreds of years, so some of the locations where it is recorded from such as Ladakh & Zanskar may well only be examples of it as a field crop or "casual" as 'Flowers of the Himalaya' (1983) states.  It certainly mostly was confined to Kashmir and its production a state monopoly at one time - it being illegal to smuggle material out but that did not stop it being introduced as a field crop into Lahoul (I have seen a diary of a member of the local ruling family explaining who brought it in first).  Koelz observed it in Lahoul in the 1930s, " Of late years, Lahulis have taken to cultivating the plants and in my last visit in 1936 hardly a cultivator was without a patch.  New land that had never considered desirable for ordinary crops was taken up and the rose bushes that in spring beautify the slopes were almost extirpated for fencing.  Latterly the price has declined and the boom is fading".  I have seen it several times in Lahoul since the 1980s and during my last visit in 2012, it was being grown abundantly (though not on the scale of Inula racemosa). It has been recorded from Kishtwar and even Kinnaur but no indication is given whether these were cultivated plants.  Nevertheless, the plant CLEARLY is not 'critically endangered' and has no business being included under Appendix I of CITES! As to its status in forest undergrowth within Kashmir territory, the species has not been surveyed for sufficiently to asses its abundance or not. Given that it is so readily cultivated, it cannot be viewed as a priority, even if it was genuinely rare but the truth is, nobody actually knows!
Valeriana wallichii (up-to-date name is Valeriana jatamansii) - yet another species which is not endemic to Kashmir, being common in forests & shrubberies @ 1500-3600m from Afghanistan to SW China, not to mention Myanamar. So to claim it as 'critically' endangered is silly!

So what do we make of the above?  Seems almost all of the are quite to very common in Kashmir with hardly any of them being endemics!  I repeat my question, what about the species which are 'rare and endangered'?  These are unknown and have been abandoned to their fate, whilst strictly limited resources are being wasted on common species.....

What can be done to improve the present, unsatisfactory situation?  There needs to be greater involvement between Indian botanists in bordering states and Nepal plus Indian botanists, even if they are prevented from dealing directly with Pakistani botanists, should use the records/information published by them. Their 'Flora of Pakistan' - consisting of a family-by-family revision, covers Kashmir (which is a disputed territory) but above all else, the Indian Government should actively encourage Indian botanists to collaborate internationally, so they can take advantage of specialist knowledge and the most up-to-date records.  For the Western Himalaya, they should approach Chris Chadwell, so he can assist in the accurate and reliable identification of species from this region - after all, he offers a FREE identification service and consultancy!