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Top 10 Wildlife Conservation Success Stories of the Century

by Lee D.
fact checked by Darci Heikkinen

The 21st century has presented both challenges and triumphs for wildlife conservation efforts worldwide. While many species face threats such as habitat loss and poaching, numerous individuals, organizations, and governments have worked tirelessly to protect and restore some of our planet’s most endangered creatures. With dedication, cooperation, and innovative conservation practices, we can reverse the fate of endangered species and restore the balance of our ecosystems. This process is slow and often complicated, but it is possible and can yield incredible results.

Related: Top 10 Bizarre Conservation Ideas That Work

10 Giant Panda Revival

Teaching China how to save endangered giant pandas | 60 Minutes Australia

The story of giant pandas is nothing short of miraculous. Once facing the grim reality of dwindling numbers and habitat loss, these beloved, iconic creatures have staged an incredible comeback. In recent years, the panda population has experienced a remarkable resurgence, and it serves as a heartening testament to the power of dedicated conservation initiatives, particularly in their native China.

One of the cornerstones of the giant panda’s resurgence has been the establishment of protected reserves. These reserves serve as sanctuaries where pandas can thrive without the immediate threats posed by human activities and habitat destruction. Within these reserves, conservationists work tirelessly to monitor panda populations, provide medical care when needed, and ensure that the animals have access to abundant bamboo.

Bamboo is the lifeblood of giant pandas, constituting nearly their entire diet. To combat the loss of bamboo forests due to deforestation and agricultural expansion, conservationists embarked on extensive bamboo reforestation projects. These initiatives involve planting bamboo groves, maintaining existing bamboo forests, and ensuring that a diverse range of bamboo species is available to pandas throughout the year. These efforts not only provide sustenance for the pandas but also help restore their natural habitat.

International cooperation has also played a crucial role in supporting Chinese conservation efforts. Partnerships with wildlife organizations, zoos, and conservationists from around the world have contributed financial resources, expertise, and scientific knowledge to the cause. Furthermore, the giant panda’s status as a global conservation symbol has helped generate awareness and support for broader conservation efforts.[1]

9 Bald Eagles Bounce Back

Bringing Bald Eagles Back: The Museum’s Story

In the mid-20th century, the populations of bald eagles began to plummet dramatically. The widespread use of DDT contaminated the food chain and weakened the eagles’ eggshells, devastating their reproductive success. Habitat destruction, driven by urban development and human encroachment, further exacerbated their struggles. By the early 1960s, the bald eagle population had reached a critical low, pushing it to the brink of extinction.

Recognizing the gravity of the situation, the U.S. government took swift action to protect the bald eagle. In 1967, the bird was listed as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Preservation Act. Legal protection was a crucial step in safeguarding the remaining populations and preventing further decline. The banning of DDT in the early 1970s played a pivotal role in the bald eagle’s recovery. With this toxic threat removed from the environment, eagle populations began to stabilize. Habitat restoration efforts, including the protection of nesting sites and the preservation of vital wetlands, provided further support for their resurgence.

Perhaps one of the most visible signs of the bald eagle’s recovery was the removal of its endangered status in 2007. The bird’s successful journey from the brink of extinction to a population that no longer required federal protection showcased the power of determined conservation initiatives and legislative action. Today, bald eagles are once again a common sight in many parts of the United States, including their iconic appearances in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, the Great Lakes region, and along the Mississippi River.[2]

8 Black Rhinos from the Brink

Rhinos Have Been Brought Back From the Brink of Extinction in Zimbabwe | Foreign Correspondent

These magnificent creatures were once on the brink of extinction but have since stabilized their populations and, in some regions, even shown signs of growth. Conservationists, anti-poaching efforts, and community-based conservation programs across Africa have been instrumental in achieving this transformation. Illegal poaching has had a devastating impact on black rhinoceros populations, with their horns being highly sought after for their perceived medicinal properties and ornamental value. This, along with habitat loss, pushed black rhinos to the brink of extinction in the late 20th century, with populations plummeting to alarming lows.

However, there has been a glimmer of hope in recent years. Conservation organizations, governments, and local communities have come together to protect these iconic creatures. Anti-poaching teams have been deployed to safeguard rhino populations, while community-based conservation initiatives have made local communities stakeholders in conservation efforts. These initiatives have not only reduced the incentive for poaching but also fostered a sense of pride and stewardship among community members.

Namibia is one of the regions where these efforts have borne fruit, with a significant portion of the world’s black rhino population. The Namibian government has embraced a community-centric approach to conservation, allowing local communities to manage and benefit from rhino populations on their lands. This innovative approach has created a sustainable model for conservation that can be replicated elsewhere.[3]

7 The Rediscovery of the Lost Rainbow Toad

The Lost Bornean Rainbow Toad | Award Winning Short Film | #TRIBESPIRIT

The Sambas stream toad, also known as the Bornean Rainbow Toad, is an amphibian that was believed to be extinct for over 87 years. However, it was rediscovered in 2011 and became a symbol of resilience among the wonders of the natural world. Scientists had described the toad in the late 1920s. It was a rare species because of its unique appearance and vibrant colors. Sightings of the toad became increasingly rare, and by the mid-20th century, it had seemingly vanished from Borneo’s rainforests.

For nearly nine decades, the Sambas stream toad was presumed extinct. But in 2011, an expedition led by Dr. Indraneil Das set out to rediscover the toad. They ventured deep into the rainforests of Borneo, facing challenges such as treacherous terrain, unpredictable weather, and wildlife conservation. Despite the difficulties, the team rediscovered the toad during a night expedition. The toad’s vibrant colors were instrumental in its rediscovery.[4]

6 Battling Tasmanian Devil Disease

Saving the Tasmanian Devil | 60 Minutes Australia

In the Australian wilderness, scientists and conservationists are working together to save the Tasmanian devil from extinction. These beloved marsupials were once on the brink of oblivion due to a contagious cancer known as Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD). However, through dedicated management and innovative strategies, there is newfound optimism for their future.

The disease that plagued the devil population has been managed through rigorous research and targeted strategies to slow its spread. Captive breeding programs have emerged as a beacon of hope for the species, safeguarding genetic diversity and providing a sanctuary for devils to thrive. These captive populations serve as insurance policies against the extinction of this unique marsupial. The hope for their revival stands as a testament to the unwavering commitment of those who refuse to let these iconic creatures disappear.[5]

5 The California Condor Soars Again

LA Zoo uses new tactic to boost California condor population

Often hailed as the majestic icon of avian conservation, the California condor has embarked on a remarkable journey of resurgence. Through dedicated efforts in captive breeding and meticulous ongoing monitoring, the population of these magnificent birds has soared from a mere 22 individuals to over 500. The California condor, with its impressive 9.5-foot (2.9-meter) wingspan and striking appearance, faced near-extinction due to factors such as lead poisoning from ingesting spent ammunition, habitat loss, and the challenges of a changing environment. However, the turning point came when a decision was made to intervene through a captive breeding program.

A small but dedicated team embarked on a mission to protect these iconic birds by carefully capturing and breeding them in controlled environments. This initiative, while daunting, has proven to be a remarkable success. As a result, the California condor population has not only rebounded but continues to thrive. Today, these resilient birds, once on the brink of extinction, are a living testament to what can be achieved through collective determination and unwavering dedication to conservation.[6]

4 Gray Wolf Roaming in the Wild

How Wolves Brought Yellowstone Back to Life

These magnificent creatures once faced threats that brought them to the brink of extinction. However, through reintroduction programs, they have made a remarkable comeback. Before the 20th century, gray wolves roamed North America’s diverse landscapes, from the Pacific Northwest’s dense forests to the Rocky Mountains’ rugged terrains. However, by the early 1900s, hunting, habitat destruction, and misconceptions about their threat to livestock led to a drastic decline in their population. With only a few remaining populations surviving in remote areas, things were looking quite dire for these animals.

Conservationists recognized the critical role these apex predators play in maintaining ecosystem health and rallied for their protection and restoration. Successful reintroduction programs have brought gray wolves back to their native habitats in several regions of North America, marking a significant milestone in wildlife conservation.

Today, in places like Yellowstone National Park and the Northern Rockies, the hauntingly beautiful howls of gray wolves once again echo through the wilderness. Their presence has not only restored ecological balance but also ignited a renewed sense of wonder and appreciation for North America’s wild places.[7]

3 Blue Whale Conservation Success

Aussie scientists gather vital information to save the incredible Blue Whales | 60 Minutes Australia

The blue whale is a magnificent giant found in the vast expanse of our oceans. These creatures are the largest animals to ever roam the earth and have been symbols of the ocean’s grandeur, growing to lengths of up to 100 feet (30.5 meters) and weighing over 200 tons. Blue whales are found in all the world’s oceans, typically in deep offshore waters. They are known for their long, haunting songs, which can travel for hundreds of miles underwater.

However, during the 19th and 20th centuries, blue whales were relentlessly hunted for their valuable blubber, meat, and bones. Their populations plummeted, and they were pushed to the brink of extinction. In response, international conservation efforts were established. The International Whaling Commission (IWC) created moratoriums on commercial whaling and designated whale sanctuaries, including the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. These steps laid the foundation for blue whale recovery.

Today, the results of these conservation efforts are becoming increasingly evident. In 2018, WWF supported the creation of the world’s largest marine protected area in the Ross Sea, which will help protect the Antarctic blue whale and other important species. WWF has also been working to address the issue of overfishing in the Southern Ocean by advocating for the establishment of a comprehensive management plan for the area.[8]

2 A Humpback Whale Comeback

Return of the humpbacks

It’s crucial to acknowledge the daunting challenges humpback whales faced in the not-so-distant past. The relentless pursuit of these gentle giants nearly pushed them to extinction. At the peak of whaling in the 19th and early 20th centuries, humpback whale populations experienced severe declines. Some populations were reduced by a staggering 90%. Recognizing the perilous state of humpback whales, the international community rallied together. The pivotal moment came in 1986 when the International Whaling Commission (IWC) instituted a global ban on commercial whaling of humpback whales. This crucial decision marked a turning point in the battle for their survival.

In addition to the whaling ban, numerous conservation measures have been implemented to ensure the humpback whale’s recovery. One key factor is the establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs) where these whales can safely feed, breed, and nurture their young. Since the bans and conservation efforts were put in place, humpback whale populations have been on the rebound. The North Atlantic humpback population, one of the most studied groups, has shown remarkable growth.

In recent decades, their numbers have been steadily increasing at an estimated rate of 5-7% per year. They continue to face various threats, including entanglement in fishing gear, ship strikes, habitat degradation, and the consequences of climate change. As such, ongoing conservation efforts, research, and public awareness are crucial to ensuring the sustained recovery of these magnificent creatures.[9]

1 Reintroducing the Arabian Oryx

Wildlife Experts Help Repopulate The Once Extinct Arabian Oryx l Wild Dubai

Once believed to be extinct in the wild, this species has been successfully reintroduced, thanks to the efforts of conservationists, governments, and local communities. The Arabian oryx used to live freely in the arid deserts of countries like Saudi Arabia, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates. However, hunting, habitat loss, and climate change pushed this species to the brink of extinction. By the 1970s, the Arabian oryx had disappeared from its natural habitat.

To save this unique species, captive breeding programs were established to protect the last remaining individuals. Thanks to the efforts of conservation organizations and the support of regional governments, the Arabian oryx was brought back to more stable numbers. In 1982, the first group of captive-bred Arabian oryx was released into the wild in Oman’s Arabian Oryx Sanctuary. Since then, these reintroduction programs have grown and flourished, leading to the establishment of several protected areas across the Arabian Peninsula. Today, the Arabian oryx is thriving in its native deserts, with an estimated 1,000 individuals or more living in the wild.[10]

fact checked by Darci Heikkinen