Environment

10 Biggest Conservation Success Stories Of 2019

Diligent efforts of conservationists and policy makers have helped revive wildlife populations of several species in 2019.

Destruction of natural habitats and the demise of wildlife populations are some of the biggest issues facing the planet today. These massive problems have been created by the adverse impact of humans on different natural ecosystems, through activities such as building new cities, mining, cultivation, among other major undertakings. Numerous individuals and groups in different countries are lobbying for the conservation of wild species, for instance, the polar bear, tigers, etc. Other conservation efforts are directed towards the entire habitats, like the Amazon rainforest, Sunderbans mangroves, etc. Conservation efforts could also be directed towards protecting natural resources. Some conservation works are aimed at specific threats to certain species. Despite some major challenges and disappointments, the year 2019 witnessed many success stories of conservation efforts in different parts of the world. Here are some of them.

The Humpback Whale 

One of the 2019 success stories on conservation is on the humpback whale. This particular species is found in South Atlantic. A new study indicates that the numbers of whales have increased from the brink of extinction, rebounding from 450 whales to 25,000 whales. In the early 1900s, intensive whaling drove the population of humpback whales in western South Atlantic to just 450 individuals. In the 1960s, protection of the whales was adopted, and in the 1980s International Whaling Commission issued a total ban on all commercial whaling. The study that was published in October 2019 on the Royal Society Open Science showed that the population had increased significantly. The study also found that humpback whales play a significant role in stabilizing the food chain and maintaining healthy oceans. The fecal droppings of whales contain vital nutrients that can stimulate the growth of phytoplankton or microscopic algae that form the base of the food chain in the oceans.  

Restoring Of The Ukrainian Danube Delta

Another success story of 2019 in conservation is the restoration of the Danube Delta in Ukraine. Crowdfunding financed the conservation efforts involved in rewilding. Rewilding refers to a gradual and progressive approach to conservation that allows nature to take care of itself by enabling natural processes to shape and repair damaged ecosystems. The approach is also important in restoring degraded landscapes. Some of the measures taken within the Delta involved removing ten obsolete dams and the introduction of water buffalo to help in restoring the wild nature and to serve some economic benefits to the community living around the Delta. The point where the Black Sea meets the Danube River is the largest wetland area in Europe. Rewilding is one of the approaches used to conserve and restore the Delta. Water buffalo was introduced in May 2019. A herd of seven animals was introduced on Ermakov Island on the Danube Delta. The buffaloes have a positive effect because they prevent a single plant species from becoming dominant. The droppings of the buffaloes are a source of food for insects. The buffaloes also create small pools for amphibians. 

A Milestone Against Wildlife Trafficking 

One of the 2019 success stories is China’s effort to stop the menace of illegal wildlife trafficking from Africa. In March 2019, workshops were held in Kenya and Botswana for the Chinese citizens working and living in both countries. The workshop aimed to raise awareness on wildlife trafficking. In attendance were more than 200 Chinese nationals from both private and state-owned enterprises. In the recent past, there has been a huge expansion of investment in Africa by the Chinese. Similarly, there was a corresponding increase in wildlife trafficking involving Chinese nationals. The main driver of the illegal trade in wildlife is the demand by the Chinese consumer, and this has threatened different species of animals in Africa such as rhinos, elephants, and pangolins. This year China took a major stride when it banned commercial processing of rhino horns, closed down the domestic market for ivory and tightened further the country’s legislation on trade in endangered species.

Discovery Of Silver-backed Chevrotain

In November 2019, the scientific journal Nature Ecology and Evolution published that it had discovered the silverback chevrotain (Tragulus versicolor). The species is a deer-like mammal, the size of a small cat or a rabbit. It is listed by the Global Wildlife Conservation as the first mammal out of the 25 most wanted mammal species to be re-discovered after they were lost. Before its rediscovery in 2019, there was only one record about the species since 1907, which was collected on the southern coast of Vietnam near Nha Trang. The mammal is neither a mouse nor a deer, but it is the smallest ungulate in the world. 

A Boost To Endangered Dingoes

A lone, small puppy was found in Wandiligong town of Victoria in August 2019. Initially, it was thought the pup was a fox or a dog, but the sample results of DNA tests indicated that the puppy was a purebred dingo. The alpine dingoes in Australia are an endangered species on the verge of extinction. The puppy dingo was given the name Wandi derived from the name of the town where it was rescued. Currently, there are 40 dingoes in the breeding program and Wandi has already joined them.  

Hope For The Functionally Extinct Northern White Rhino

On September 11, 2019, scientists from Italy at Avantea laboratory announced that they have successfully created two embryos of the functionally extinct Northern white rhino. The embryos were created using eggs extracted from the last two females of northern white rhinos and frozen sperm extracted from two dead males. The two embryos are in Italy kept in liquid nitrogen. According to scientists, the embryos will be planted on southern white rhinos as surrogate mothers. About five years ago it was hardly believable that the northern white rhino would come back.

California Condors Make A Comeback

The California condor is the largest land bird in America and it is one of the New World vultures. Its scientific name is Gymnogyps californianus. In the early 1980s, there were only 22 birds in the wild and breeding program was established in 1987. In the same year, it was declared extinct in the wild. After breeding, they were gradually released into the wild and in May 2019, the 1,000th chick was hatched. According to IUCN, the California condor is listed as critically endangered. The total living population of the species is currently more than 500.     

Recovery Of Greater Bermuda Land Snails

The greater Bermuda land snails (Poecilozonites bermudensis)are among the oldest endemic animals in Bermuda. The snails have survived numerous changes to the ecology and landscape of the Bermuda Islands for more than a million years. However, beginning in the 1950s and 1960s, their population declined dramatically as a result of introducing different predatory snails and changes to their habitats. By the 1990s, it was believed to have gone extinct until 2014 when they were discovered in Hamilton. Some snails were sent to Chester Zoo in the UK for a breeding program. The breeding was so successful and there are now about 13,000 snails. In June 2019, more than 4,000 snails were brought back and released into the wild in Bermuda.

Kirtland’s Warbler 

It is believed that, 50 years ago, there were less than 200 pairs or breeding Kirtland’s warbler (Dendroica kirtlandii) in the forests of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario. Through aggressive conservation efforts, their habitats have been managed successfully to mimic natural processes that have reduced the number of brown-headed cowbirds (that engage in brood parasitism on warbler nests). The bird which was the first to be listed on the US Endangered Species Act, was in 2019, recommended to be removed from the list. The recovery of Kirtland’s warbler is one of the best examples of what it takes to save endangered species.

The Success Of Australian Trout Cod

The Australian trout cod is one of the 2019 successful stories on conservation. In December 2019, IUCN removed the species from the endangered status and was classified as vulnerable on the organization’s red list. The move was a result of decades of conservation actions. The focus has been on establishing sub-populations through re-introduction as well as wild to wild translocations.

Challenges 

Despite the numerous success stories witnessed in 2019, the year also witnessed challenges, and there are animals believed to have gone extinct during the year. One such example is the Hawaiian snail (Achatinella apexfulva). The last known individual of the species died on New Year’s Day in a tank in a laboratory in Hawaii. The snail is believed to be extinct now, and not even a single one has been found in the wild for more than 20 years. The Achatinella apexfulva, like other native snails in Hawaii, has disappeared because the state department of Agriculture in Hawaii introduced an invasive rosy wolf snail. The aim was intended to exterminate another invasive species which had been introduced earlier. However, the strategy had an unintended result. The wolf snail exterminated Achatinella apexfulva. 

Of the animals believed to have gone extinct in 2019, most of them are islanders. It is believed that animals in islands have relatively small populations and small habitats, and are inherently affected the most by a single development or one catastrophe. For instance, the Bramble Cay melomys (Melomys rubicola), which is believed to have gone extinct in February 2019, was inhabiting a small 12-acre island in the northern part of Australia. When such small habitats are destroyed, the animals have nowhere else to go.

About the Author

Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor. 

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