Around 600 animal species may be inaccurately classified as non-threatened under current measurements, according to a new study.

Over 100 that were previously considered impossible to assess by experts who compile the official Red List of Threatened Species could also face extinction unless action is taken.

Scientists devised a new method based on sophisticated statistical models to assess the status of species for which data is lacking.

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Among the mysterious species deemed at high risk of extinction were the brown-banded rail, a rarely seen bird native to the Philippines, and Williamson’s mouse-deer from Thailand.

There were also hundreds of animals previously considered safe, such as the red-breasted pygmy parrot and the Ethiopian striped mouse, which are actually likely to be under threat.

“This indicates that urgent reassessment is needed of the current statuses of animal species on the Red List,” said Dr Luca Santini, an ecologist at Radboud University who led the new research.

Current methods used by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) when compiling their list involve specialised scientists volunteering their time to assess the status of the world’s wildlife.

They use information such as known population size and distribution to rank them into five categories from “least concern” to “critically endangered”.

“While this process is extremely important for conservation, experts often have a limited amount of data to apply the criteria to the more than 90,000 species that are currently covered by the Red List,” explained Dr Santini.

“Often these data are of poor quality because they are outdated or inaccurate because certain species that live in very remote areas have not been properly studied. This might lead species to be misclassified or not assessed at all.”

Collaborating with leading scientists covering birds and mammals for the IUCN, Dr Santini designed a new strategy using additional data to yield more comprehensive results.

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This included information about the landscapes animals are known to inhabit, and their ability to cope with and move through disrupted habitats.

While human pressures from deforestation to climate change push many species towards extinction, there are still vast swathes of the animal and plant kingdoms that remain largely unknown.

Dr Santini said he hoped this new strategy can be used as an early warning system to highlight species that require urgent attention.

The results, which the team says can be used to complement traditional IUCN methods, were published in the journal Conservation Biology.

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