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Hundreds of species under threat of extinction are being left unprotected, according to a new report launched today at the World Parks Congress in Durban, South Africa.

The 'Global Gap Analysis' found that around 700 bird, mammal and amphibian species are not covered by the global network of 100,000 officially protected areas — zones that are dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity.

"This analysis clearly shows that there are severe gaps in the protected area system," says Gustavo Fonseca, executive vice president at Conservation International (CI), the US-based campaign and research group that teamed up with the World Conservation Union (IUCN) to produce the report.

Their analysis is the result of a collaborative effort by thousands of scientists around the world to map the geographical range of more than 11,000 species. Tropical areas — specifically rainforests — and islands deserve highest priority for the creation of new protected areas, they say.

By extending the world's protected areas by just 2.6 per cent, the study estimates that two thirds of the 'gap species' could be protected. But the authors also warn that their results should be interpreted carefully.

"The Global Gap Analysis should be regarded as a useful tool to guide the worldwide allocation of conservation spending," says Ana Rodrigues, research fellow with CI. "But [it] cannot be regarded as the final word."

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