30 reasons to be positive in 2020
1: Mountain gorillas were recently reclassified from ‘critically endangered’ to ‘endangered’. It was previously feared they could be extinct by the turn of the last millennium, but thanks to organisations, such as Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, mountain gorillas across Uganda, Rwanda and DRC have doubled in the last 30 years, currently standing at 1,063.
2: Eight young Maasai women formed Team Lioness in 2019, one of the first all-women ranger units combating wildlife crime in Kenya. Brought together by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), they’re the first female Maasai ranger unit in the country, and work to prevent poaching and trafficking in Amboseli.
3: The death of Sudan, the last northern white rhino in Kenya, as documented by photographer Ami Vitale, was a wake-up call to the world. His story isn’t over yet. An international consortium of scientists and conservationists created embryos using eggs harvested from two remaining female northern white rhinos at Ol Pejeta Conservancy and semen collected from deceased males, including Sudan. Currently stored in liquid nitrogen, the embryos will be transferred to a surrogate mother. The Jurassic Park-esque technology could bring northern white rhinos back from extinction, and hopefully other animal species too.
4: Haiti’s first ever private Nature Reserve was established last year, following the acquisition of more than 1,200 acres on Grand Bois mountain. The reserve’s home to 68 vertebrate species, including many threatened with extinction, such as the Tiburon Streamfrog.
5: Poaching drove black rhinos close to extinction. But conservation efforts and protection from poaching means the south-western black rhino has been reclassified from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘near-threatened’ by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), meaning it’s less likely to become extinct in the wild in the near future.
“Nature is amazingly resilient. Places we’ve destroyed can and have been restored. Many animals and plants that were on the brink of extinction have been given another chance.”
Dr Jane Goodall
6: Cheetah Conservation Fund helped rescue 44 cheetahs from traffickers in 2019. They’re currently rehabilitating 38 cheetahs in Somaliland and building a new facility to save more.
7: More than 180 Scarlet macaws are back in the wild in Los Tuxlas Biosphere Reserve in Mexico thanks to a 2014 reintroduction project, after habitat destruction and the illegal pet trade wiped them out.
8: Commercial whaling wiped out an estimated two million whales in the 19th and 20th centuries. Since whaling was banned in 1986, humpback whale populations have recovered in the south Atlantic ocean, between Antarctica and South America. According to a Royal Society Open Science report, humpbacks have made a mighty comeback from just 440 in the 1950s to 25,000 today.
9: Buying and selling ivory is now illegal in China, the world’s largest ivory market. The country’s 2018 domestic ivory trade ban has been a big step in reducing the slaughter of elephants across Africa. Hong Kong’s also committed to close its trade by 2023. There’s now pressure on Japan, the only remaining major legal ivory market, to shut it down. Despite the bans, more work’s needed to combat the illegal ivory trade, which is still driving African elephants towards extinction.
10: Though elephants continue to be wiped out in some African countries, Save The Elephants have reported the number of elephants in northern Kenya has recovered to where it was before poaching hit the area 10 years ago. An estimated 7,347 elephants currently call the region ‘home’.
11: In 2014, the giant palm oil developer PT Kallista Alam was fined $26 million (£21 million) for illegally clearing land for palm oil plantations and setting fires. The legal action was brought against the company by Farwiza Farhan and HAkA, an NGO that works to protect the Leuser ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia, the last place on Earth where the tiger, orangutan, elephant, and rhino still roam together in the wild. International anger and attention helped ensure a fair trial, resulting in the landmark fine.
“You can’t be a conservationist if you’re not an optimist at heart. I believe we can turn things around. All hope is not lost.”
12: The 1700-mile Route of Parks launched last year in Chile, a connected network of protected areas and national parks. The project was the result of 25 years of strategic buying up of land in Chile by Kristine Tompkins and her late husband, Doug, which included the creation of five new national parks, including Parque Patagonia. Tompkins Conservation handed over more than a million acres of protected land to the Chilean government, ensuring the protection of wilderness areas and wildlife, including the rare huemel deer and the massive rhea bird.
13: The world’s largest marine protected area was established in 2017 in the Ross Sea, off the coast of Antarctica, creating a permanent sanctuary for penguins, whales and toothfish.
14: West African giraffes plummeted to near-extinction, but now stand tall at around 600. The figure’s still low, but had previously dropped to just 49, before Niger’s government and communities rallied behind protecting the giraffes. Until recently, the subspecies lived exclusively in an area close to Niger’s capital Niamey. But in 2018, the Giraffe Conservation Foundation helped established a second population of West African giraffe in Gadabedji Biosphere Reserve, where giraffe had gone locally extinct 50 years earlier.
15: A female panda rescued from the wild, who grew up in captivity, was released into the wild in 2018 to attempt mating with a wild panda. She returned and gave birth to a cub in 2019, the first time a cub’s been born to a captive mother and a wild father, a milestone to improve the gene pool.
16: India’s wild tiger population is growing. The country’s big cats were largely wiped out over the last century, including Asiatic cheetah, Asiatic lions and tigers, before hunting was outlawed in 1971. Tigers were down to a historic low of 3,200 by 2010. But India is one of 13 countries working to double tiger numbers by 2022. Numbers of wild tigers in India have increased by 33 per cent since 2015 to 2,967.
17: Wildlife charities across Indonesia and Borneo are working to protect orangutans, as populations are hit by the loss of habitat to logging and oil palm plantations. BOS Foundation, for example, has rescued 350 orangutans, released 468 orangutans back into the wild, and witnessed the births of 20 wild babies since 2012.
“We seem to be on the razor’s edge in many cases of these different animals’ survival. There are a lot of people that are very passionate and trying to do important things. The question is: is it happening fast enough?
18: Also in Indonesia, the Orangutan Project and partners have obtained management rights for two concessions adjacent to Bukit Tigapuluh National Park in Jambi Province, central Sumatra, and a further area on the eastern boundaries of the National Park, bringing the protected area (including the National Park) to more than 182,000 hectares. The concessions have increased the protected habitat for critically endangered species , including Sumatran tigers, elephants and rehabilitated Sumatran orangutans.
19: Condors in California, USA dwindled to just 22 in the 1980s, but breeding and release programmes have increased their numbers in the wild. The hatching of chick Number 1000 was celebrated this year. The birds are still listed as ‘critically endangered’ by the IUCN.
20: In 2019, the Belizean government announced plans to protect the Maya Forest Corridor, a vital link in Central America’s largest forest. The corridor serves as a gateway connecting and ensuring the survival of wildlife species, including the jaguar, the critically endangered Central America river turtle, and the endangered Central American spider monkey.
21: Kenya’s conservancies have been a roaring success, balancing the needs of resident wildlife and local people, and making sure landowners benefit from tourism money. They now cover more than six million hectares of land, around 11 per cent of Kenya’s total area, alongside national parks and reserves that occupy eight per cent of the country. Conservancies play a critical role in protecting and recovering wildlife populations. Over the last decade, Hilora (a type of antelope) numbers in Ishaqbini conservancy have increased, lion populations in Mara conservancies have doubled, and rhinos in Laikipia’s conservancies are on the up.
22: 200 travel companies have committed to ending the sale of elephant rides and entertainment shows after public pressure and campaigns led by World Animal Protection. Many are now offering alternative cruelty-free elephant experiences.
23: People power also successfully pushed Instagram to add a warning message when users search or use harmful hashtags for wildlife selfies, which cause stress and suffering to animals, such as sloths and slow lorises. 250,000 people supported WAP’s Wildlife Selfie Code campaign, which got Instagram to send messages to people posting or searching with hashtags such as #slothselfie.
“There are so many battles. If you’re not positive, nothing gets done. I’m always looking for the next thing that I can try to make a difference on.”
24: An ongoing project in Zimbabwe allowing rescued elephants to be released back into wild habitat for the first time in the country. IFAW and partner organisation Wild Is Life-ZEN secured an 85,000-acre habitat previously used for hunting. Under watchful eyes, the first six elephants moved to the site are now interacting happily with wild herds.
25: Oil extraction in Alberta, Canada’s Tar Sands, one of the world’s largest oil reserves, has been called the most destructive industrial project in history. With global attention from the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Naomi Klein, and thanks to five years of determined campaigning by First Nations communities and international environmental groups, including Greenpeace, TransCanada announced in 2017 they were cancelling the East Energy Tar Sands pipeline project.
“There are a lot of very bad things happening to wildlife around the world. But look at the positives and there are examples of how we’re part of the problem but we’re also part of the solution. If we put our minds to it, places can come back.”
26: The 1990s saw a rapid and catastrophic decline of populations of white-rumped, Indian and slender-billed vultures across the Indian subcontinent. In Nepal, the ban of diclofenac for veterinary use in 2006 and the creation of a Vulture Safe Zone programme led to a recently reported rapid and continuing recovery of vulture populations since 2013.
27: As of April 2020, Wildlife Alliance rangers are protecting almost 1.5 million hectares of the Cardamom Rainforest Landscape, one of the last unfragmented rainforests in South-east Asia. Patrolling by land, sea and air, rangers have achieved zero elephant poaching since 2006. The Cardamom rainforest landscape supports more than 50 IUCN threatened species of vertebrates.
“Right now is the moment to act. I see the future unfolding in front of us in slow motion and I think to myself every single day, if all of us don’t start using our voices, we’re condemning future generations. It doesn’t have to be that way. That’s the reality.”
28: One of the largest remaining coastal temperate rainforests on Earth, the Great Bear Rainforest received protection from logging and other destruction in 2016, due to pressure from First Nations communities and environmental organisations. The forests are home to the rare white spirit bear.
29: In 2013, Humane Society International launched a project with the CITES Management Authority of Vietnam, aimed at reducing demand for rhino horn, which has reached an estimated 37 million people across the country, with a 45 per cent decline in demand among the public.
30: More than 1.2 million people stood behind the Munduruku people to stop the construction of a giant dam in the Brazilian Amazon. In 2016, the Brazilian environmental agency, IBAMA, announced the cancellation of the license for building the São Luiz do Tapajós dam, which was seen as harmful for the Amazon environment, wildlife and resident tribal people.
Gorilla photo (top) from Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.
Graeme Green is a journalist and photographer: www.graeme-green.com
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