Little changes to our environment happen every day and all too often they go unnoticed. Very often these changes are not particularly good news for our environment but sometimes we have real wins that we should celebrate! These success stories of when people have worked together to recover our landscapes and its natural habitats show that we can make a difference.
Some papers suggest that to make a significant improvement in the state of our wildlife across the globe, we would need to invest about 80 billion dollars.
So, to illustrate how global conservation efforts are making a difference and how support from volunteers and donors – whether individual citizens, the public sector or business leaders – are actually working, here are five stories of endangered species and how they have been brought back from the brink of extinction.
The Endangered Species Act
A landmark US piece of legislation is the Endangered Species Act. Some criticise it for not actually delivering for protected species, but these critics often forget that wildlife does not recover overnight. Indeed, a report on the effectiveness of the Act has found that 80% of species listed simply haven’t been projected for long enough to show results.
More specifically, on average, species have been protected for 32 years but have a typical expected recovery period of 46 years . The good news is that according to another study 93% of species were stabilized or improving since being put on the endangered species list while 82% were on track to meet recovery goals .
Great stories to be remembered
It should come as no surprise that two of the biggest success stories have come as a result of the Endangered Species Act, the American crocodile and the American peregrine falcon.
- The American Crocodile
In pre-Columbian days, the coast of South Florida was a key habitat for American crocodiles with thousands of crocodiles living there. But by 1975, when the species was listed as endangered, their population has reached 200. Years of being hunted for sport or their skins had left the crocodiles decimated with only 10 to 20 breeding females.
Miraculously, within eight years of being listed, their population had grown to about 1,000 and in 2005 there were over 2,000 crocodiles; as a result, two years later the species was downlisted from endangered to threatened .
- The American Peregrine Falcon
Around the same time as action was taken to protect the American crocodile, it was also understood that the use of DDT and other organochlorine pesticides had caused great population declines for the American peregrine falcon.
In 1970, the American peregrine was listed as endangered and to enable its survival DDT was banned in Canada in 1970 and in the United States in 1972. As a result, by 1980, populations of this falcon began to grow, going from strength to strength as populations were re-established in the East and Midwest.
Successive efforts to support its breeding meant that today there are over 3,000 breeding pairs compared to 324 in 1975. The American Peregrine Falcone was officially delisted in 1999 .
- The Galapagos Giant Tortoise
Showcasing the importance of restoring entire ecosystems to support endangered species, is the case of the Galapagos giant tortoise, one of the most iconic and old species of our planet. These giant tortoises often reach the age of 100 but ever since the mid-1950s, it was considered that they were on the road to extinction with their populations reduced by 90%.
Conservation efforts started in the 1960s and today, after many years of work they are yielding results. Already in 1965, park guards started methodically removing eggs from tortoise nests, rearing the offspring to “rat-proof” size in captivity and releasing them back into the wild. Today, more than 5,000 young tortoises have been repatriated, many are now adults making this program one of the most successful examples of “head-starting” to save a species in conservation history.
But this was not enough: invasive species were destroying the tortoises’ natural environment. Goats brought by early settlers overgrazed the landscape destroying forage, shade and water sources that tortoises relied on. So conservationists embarked upon removing the goats to restore the entire habitat !
- The European Bison
The largest herbivore in Europe, the bison, became extinct in the wild in the early 1900’s as a result of hunting and habitat loss. But after considerable efforts involved a large-scale breeding and reintroduction programme, wild populations have been re-established in central and eastern Europe, particularly in Poland and Belarus.
The population has an immense growth since 1960 of 3084%! There are about 3,000 bison in Europe today thanks to the persistent efforts of experts .
- The Eurasian Beaver
Another marked improvement in terms of population size was the recovery of the Eurasian beaver whose numbers increased by 14,055% since 1960 ! This adorable creature was once abundant across the wider European continent over the last 150 years, its population was severely reduced to just over 1,000.
However, with a combination of hunting restrictions and reintroduction schemes, the species has expanded its range by 650% across the continent, and is now found in at least 25 countries .
The future of endangered species is in our hands
Practical experience and studies have shown that targeted conservation projects can help bring species back to life; proper legislation is having a direct positive and significant response in terms of species recovery.
Given the immense challenges ahead, with overall biodiversity at threat due to climate change, land use changes and pollution as well as cases of extreme poaching of iconic species such as rhinos, we need to pursue ambitious conservation projects to keep our planet intact for future generations.
We know what we need to do and we know how to do it. There is therefore no excuse for not getting this right!