Top 10 Conservation Good News Stories of 2021 so far
2021. A YEAR FULL OF RECORD-BREAKING WILDFIRES; SNOWSTORMS IN TEXAS AND A GLOBAL PANDEMIC. WE HAVE MET NONE OF THE BIODIVERSITY TARGETS SET IN AICHI 10 YEARS AGO. OUR IMPACT ON THE GLOBE, ITS ECOSYSTEMS AND WILDLIFE IS IMPOSSIBLE TO IGNORE. AMONGST ALL THE NOISE OF CLIMATE DOOM, IT IS EASY TO GET LOST IN A SEA OF ‘ECO-ANXIETY’.
HOWEVER, WE MUST REMEMBER THAT GIVEN HALF A CHANCE, NATURE HAS SHOWN TIME AND TIME AGAIN THAT IT CAN, AND WILL, BOUNCE BACK.
AT BLOOM IN DOOM, WE BELIEVE IN SHARING THE SUCCESS STORIES TO FUEL THE FIRE OF CONSERVATION WORK ACROSS THE GLOBE, SO HERE ARE SOME OF OUR FAVOURITE CONSERVATION GOOD NEWS STORIES FROM 2021 SO FAR…
1. Iberian Lynx (Lynx pardinus)
Originally native to the Iberian Peninsula, this feline was extinct in the region by 2002. Seen as pests to farmers and sought out by trophy hunters, populations were in proliferating decline. Though legally protected since the 1970’s, their populations plummeted to an estimated 94 individuals in 2002, making them the world’ most endangered cat. However, since then the Spanish government has paired with NGO’s and scientists to save the lynx from its impending fate. Working to stabilise the current population and to establish neighbouring breeding populations in Portugal, captive breeding programmes have been the key to this feline’s redemption. With a combined population in 2021 of over 1,000 wild individuals, it’s sometimes easy to forget just how close this cat came to extinction.
2. Eurasian Beavers (Castor fiber)
This next success story is set closer to home. Hunted for their fur and castoreum oil, Eurasian beavers have been extinct in the UK since the 16th century. However, in 1995 a 10-year study commenced aiming to reintroduce them to their native homeland. Reintroductions are no small feat; you can’t just deposit a few beavers at the edge of a river and hope for the best, there are lots of important criteria to consider. However, beavers provide many ecosystem benefits such as preventing flood risk and creating wetland habitats. Thankfully for the beavers, the effort was worth it; 400 years after they disappeared, beavers are roaming our countryside once more. Successful releases have seen population numbers climb to an estimated 400 plus individuals. Our resident dam-builders are back in business.
3. Black Rhinos (Diceros bicornis)
An animal regularly associated with the extinction crisis, is the rhino. With historic home ranges spanning the east coast of Africa, black rhinos saw catastrophic population declines of 98% in just 2 decades. The unfortunate price for carrying such a valuable commodity on your head, the trade price for ivory last year as high as $600 US dollars per kg. However, in recent years increased policing efforts and schemes to tackle rural poverty have seen poaching numbers drop dramatically and it’s even thought that COVID-19 travel restrictions have had a part to play in this. The Kenyan Wildlife Trust reported zero rhinos poached in 2020, the first time since 1999. Only a fraction of their original population remains, but with numbers on the rise once more, there may be hope for rhinos yet.
4. Tenerife-La Gomera Whale Heritage Site in the Canary Islands
From the deserts of Africa, to the North Atlantic Ocean and Europe’s first designated Whale Heritage Site (WHS). Established by the World Cetacean Alliance, Whale Heritage Sites are protected areas encouraging sustainable ecotourism, allowing visitors to experience wild cetaceans in a way that preserves their natural habitat. Cetacean tourism is a $2.1 billion industry and attracts some 20 million people annually but not without impact. Boat strike and noise pollution can have incredibly detrimental effects on cetacean populations if sustainable practices are not implemented. This site truly encapsulates the value of ecotourism, boosting the local economy whilst preserving the area’s marine heritage and the livelihoods of the cetaceans that call it home.
5. Californian Condors (Gymngyps californianus)
In the 1980’s, the Californian Condor found itself at the brink of extinction. Populations crashed to only 10 individuals in their vast home range, stretching from British Columbia down to Mexico and across to Florida. Scientists decided that something had to be done. In a project hailed as one of the most successful extinction preventions, all remaining individuals were taken into a captive breeding programme. Reintroduction began a decade later and, 20 years after the project began, their population had increased nine-fold. The state of California also banned the use of lead ammunition, lead was being ingested by the birds in lethal amounts when scavenging prey. The Yurok tribe –an indigenous people from what is now the state of California – have long awaited the day when the sacred condor would return to their skies. Playing a huge part in their culture, the Yurok have been and continue to be leaders in the captive breeding and rehabilitation of this species.
6. Tasmanian Devils (Sarcophilus harrisii)
Australia has the second highest number of endemic species – species found nowhere else in the world – after Indonesia. It also boasts the highest mammal extinction rate in the world. The introduction of the once domestic dingo left the Tasmanian Devils unable to compete for food or space and eventually they vanished from the main land altogether. As if being evicted from their home wasn’t bad enough, in their one surviving strong-hold on Tasmania, a deadly disease ravaged the remaining population. Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD), is the only known contagious cancer and it affects 90% of the devils living on Tasmania. In the hopes of saving the remaining healthy individuals, a captive breeding programme was established and as of September 2020, devils have returned to the Australian mainland for the first time in 3,000 years. In its early stages, results are positive and there is hope for the devils yet.
7. Loa Water Frogs (Telmatobius dankoi)
Now, talk about cutting it close, this next story takes it to another extreme. All that remained of its population was residing in the muddy puddles of a dried up river. Years of unsustainable water extraction for mining and agriculture had starved them of their habitat. The Loa Water Frog is a species not much bigger than your little finger and 14 of them were found in a puddle in the Atacama Desert in 2019. They were brought to the National Zoo of Chile. So little was known about the species that scientists weren’t sure they would survive let alone breed. But they did. The programme recently welcomed almost 200 tadpoles! Suitable habitat will still need to be established before scientists can think about reintroduction but for these frogs, help arrived just in time.
8. Black Stilts (Himantopus novaezelandiae)
Animals often hold cultural significance in people’s lives and this can drive conservation efforts. This was the case in regards to one New Zealand native, whose population numbers dropped to just 23 individuals. Black Stilts are small wading birds, the introduction of cats and ferrets, habitat loss and increased recreational use of wetlands, led to near devastatingly low numbers in the 1980’s. Additionally, these birds are monogamous – they mate for life – and so breeding rates were nowhere near high enough to save the species. A captive breeding programme was set up and predator controls and habitat protections were implemented, with the support of local landowners and the public. Thanks to this collaborative effort, the Black Stilt is thriving in the wild once more.
9. Indo-Pacific Finless Porpoises (Neophocaena phocaenoides)
In China’s first large-scale protection initiative in over 30 years, this critically endangered cetacean has seen its protections in the Yangtze River increased to the highest level. Numbers recently fell to just 1,000 in the wild, but in an attempt to prevent the finless porpoise from suffering the same devastating declines as the Yangtze River dolphin, protections have already been introduced. Pollution from China’s extensive industry and entanglement in fishing gear have led to hundreds of finless porpoise deaths annually, but these new protections have already created many new habitats for the species. They also promote better practice and policing across the region. With the backing of major charities such as WWF, this is definitely a positive step for China’s finless porpoises.
10. Coral Reefs
Commonly mistaken for plants, it may surprise you to learn that corals are actually animals, or rather huge colonies of tiny organisms called ‘polyps’, working together. Global warming is proving catastrophic for coral reefs around the world, leading to a phenomenon known as coral bleaching – whereby essential algae which feed the coral, die off, leaving a white shell behind. The Blue Nature Alliance group is on a mission to reverse the fate of corals around the world. Consisting of governments, conservationists and indigenous communities, they have a goal to conserve 18 million km2 of ocean by 2025 (an area double that of the US). The success of this initiative would be a massive win for our global climate so be sure to keep an eye on their efforts over the coming years.
Olivia is a Zoology MSci graduate from the University of Exeter. She has keen interests in ground-up conservation and human-wildlife conflict and coexistence. She is passionate about scientific writing and communication, believing that conservation is doomed to fail if not accessible to all. She has always enjoyed writing, creatively and informatively and is glad that at Bloom in Doom she is able to combine this with her love of the natural world.