Around the world, plant and animal species are being added to the endangered list on what is a seemingly daily basis. Sometimes this news makes it seem as if there is no hope for the future of wildlife and the environment. Despite this rather bleak outlook, many wildlife conservation efforts have been widely successful and in some cases, are bringing plant and animal populations out of endangered status. This article takes a look at some of the most successful wildlife conservation campaigns around the world.
On March 3, 2016, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the grizzly bear population increased to over 700 from only 136 bears in 1975. These bears now inhabit around 22,500 square miles throughout the states of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming - more than twice as much as their range in the 1970s. This comeback represents the success of 30 years of cooperation among federal, state, and tribal administrations to achieve conservation as guided by the Endangered Species Act of the US.
During this announcement, the agency also proposed removing the grizzly bear from the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. Delisting this species would not change management and conservation efforts within national parks and other protected areas. It does, however, mean that state governments can reinstate hunting in specific areas.
After years of suffering significant population losses due to unsustainable hunting and ivory poaching practices, elephants were placed on the Endangered Species List and ivory was banned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. In response to conservation efforts, elephant populations began increasing during the 1990s, particularly in East Africa. After Namibia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Botswana receive a special approval for the “one time” sale of ivory to China and Japan in 2008, however, demand for ivory has once again increased. Poaching of elephants reached unprecedented numbers in the 2010s and population numbers once again began to decline.
While this may not seem like a conservation success story, it has led to two important achievements in policy. The US enacted new regulations to make the illegal ivory trade more difficult in that country. This move set the stage for international policy action and in December of 2016, China announced that it will close its domestic ivory trade by the end of 2017. These bans represent a huge success for worldwide elephant populations and wildlife conservation experts hope that instances of poaching will soon decrease as well.
In September of 2016, the IUCN reported that the giant panda would no longer be listed as endangered. Due to a 17% increase in its population size, its status has been downgraded to vulnerable. This species, native to the bamboo forests of China, has a wild population of around 1,850, up from 1,600 in 2003. The conservation efforts to bring back the panda have been ongoing since at least the 1990s and involved collaboration with the government of China and local communities. Panda conservation programs resulted in a significant decrease in poaching and an increase in the number of protected areas where this species lives. Today, China is home to 67 panda reserves, similar to national parks, in order to protect this species and prevent its extinction.
In 1962, Rachel Carson published her book “Silent Spring”, in which she reported the negative environmental consequences of using pesticides. The book gave special focus to the effects of DDT use on bird populations. During this time in the US, birds all over the country were dying prematurely due to a bioaccumulation of DDT. In order to capture as much attention as possible, Carson wrote specifically about the bald eagle, the national bird of the US. Carson and her book are credited with changing the national policy on pesticide use and with changing the majority opinion about the importance of environmental conservation. In 1972, DDT was banned and shortly thereafter, the Environmental Protection Agency was established.
The bald eagle population was so severely diminished that some places around the country reported only one nesting pair or, sometimes, that the local population had disappeared. Other factors contributed to this decline as well. Its habitat suffered deforestation and farmers killed the bald eagle because it was perceived as a threat against livestock. Bald eagle conservation efforts in the US included the banning of DDT, making it illegal to kill the bald eagle, protecting known nesting sites, cleaning up waterways, and reintroducing the bald eagle to its natural habitat.
In 1995, the bald eagle was taken off the list of endangered species. The last population count in the US reported 9,789 breeding pairs.
Tigers inhabit a large number of ecosystems throughout South and Southeast Asia. Over the last 100 years or so, habitat degradation and poaching have caused a significant decrease in wild tiger population size. At one point, their global numbers decreased from over 100,000 to around only 3,000. Their habitat range has also suffered greatly and today, wild tigers can only be found in 11 countries as opposed to their original range of 23.
Conservation efforts between international organizations and various international government agencies were begun in order to record wild tiger populations, to discourage poaching attempts, and to educate the public. These efforts also resulted in extended areas of protected habitat across many countries. Today, for the first time in conservation history, the wild tiger population has increased. The most recent count reports a population size of 3,890, indicating successful conservation efforts.
In 1967, the manatee population size had decreased to merely a few hundred off the coast of Florida. In response, the US Fish and Wildlife Service listed this species as endangered. Some of the threats faced by the manatee included: being killed as food source, boating accidents, and drastically changing temperatures. Manatees are also particularly sensitive to red tides, or algal blooms. To prevent them from being killed for food and in boating accidents, a number of regulations were enacted. The state of Florida implemented no-boating and no-wake zones to discourage boaters and to reduce their speeds. The manatee was also also placed under the protection of the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
In January of 2016, almost 50 years later, the agency announced that this species would now be classified as threatened. The Florida manatee population has increased to more than 6,300 and globally, the manatee has reached around 13,000. Despite its success, the manatee will remain protected by current measures.
Orangutans can only be found in the wild on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. Around 100 years ago, the orangutan population was around 230,000. Today, it is only 112,000. The orangutan population has been threatened by poaching for several reasons: to feed humans, to prevent them from destroying crops, and to sell them in the illegal pet trade. Additionally, deforestation and habitat loss have caused the deaths of many orangutans.
Orangutan conservation efforts have been ongoing since the 1970s, focusing on habitat protection, sustainable timber practices, anti-poaching, and ending the pet trade. While this species is not off of the endangered list, some recent successes have been achieved. Of particular importance is the work of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. This organization has successfully released 250 orangutans into protected areas in the wild, many of these released orangutans were rescued and rehabilitated. Rescue, rehabilitation, and release efforts are ongoing in an attempt to save this species from extinction.
Perhaps one of the biggest wildlife conservation success stories has been with the Hawaiian crow which, until recently, was actually extinct in the wild. Between 2002 and 2016, the only remaining Hawaiian crows were located at the Keauhou and Maui Bird Conservation Centers. This species, a tool-using bird, was killed off by invasive predators, farmers, disease, and habitat degradation.
The conservation center has been working to reintroduce this species into the wild for year. Part of these efforts have involved working with the Three Mountains watershed alliance to protect the birds’ native wetlands and forests. Additionally, the conservation team has been conducting public education outreach with local communities, farmers, and schools to ensure successful reintroduction. In December of 2016, 5 Hawaiian crows were released into the wild, where they play an important role in the ecosystem by eating and dispersing the seeds of native Hawaiian plants. Conservation and reintroduction efforts will remain ongoing for this species.
In addition to the successful animal conservation stories, nonprofits and governments around the world are celebrating significant advances in land protection efforts. Here are a few of those advances: In 2015, the US government designated a number of wilderness areas as national monuments and recreation areas, including Browns Canyon (21,589 acres), Berryessa Snow Mountain (330,780 acres), Basin and Range (704,000 acres), and the Sawtooth and Jerry Peak areas (275,000 acres). Australia banned dredge material disposal in an effort to protect the Great Barrier Reef. The National Wildlife Federation reached over 200,000 certified habitats in its Gardens for Wildlife Program.
These efforts are critical in successful wildlife conservation attempts as they ensure the safety and protection of habitats and ecosystems for a vast number of plant and animal species.