Almost a year ago, I was looking back on 2011 and considering some of the species we had lost. Now as we contemplate the completion of another year, I thought it might be nice to see what we’ve managed to save. Are there species which, through the efforts of dedicated conservationists, have been able to come back from the brink?
As before, my source is the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, which keeps track of conservation status for all our planet’s previously and currently threatened species. The IUCN Red List is updated regularly, with species statuses ranging from least concern (species that are doing well) to critically endangered (about to disappear), and even extinct.
Poring through the summary table for species status category changes, I’ve sought out species that have become more plentiful and stable over the course of 2012. If you look for it, it seems there is a little good news out there to be found.
The Steller sea lion, which was critically endangered, has now had its threat level downgraded to near threatened, the lowest category of danger (other than least concern). The attractive marine creature is found primarily in Northern seas, and in greater numbers today than the same time last year.
It’s true, we tend to be more interested in our mammal cousins than more distant taxa. There’s a reason tigers and panda bears are the poster children for conservation efforts, though I don’t know if it’s the soft fur or mammary glands. Whatever the reason, to all you nipple-bearers out there: this one’s for you.
Steller sea lions are more plentiful than last year. (Photo credit: Kevin Bell – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.)
Several related species of freshwater mussels called pigtoes, found in the Southern United States, have also made a partial recovery. Previously declared extinct, it turns out this species is still hanging on. The tenacity of life is impressive, even though we know there are limits.
(Photo credit: Weitbrech.)
A tree in Tanzania was twice declared extinct, and has re-emerged this year for the second time. Weirdly, Erythrina schliebenii turns out to be a member of the legume family.
I have a soft spot for ancient trees. It’s astounding that just about anywhere in the world, you can seek out woody trunks that have stood in previous historical eras, and more astounding still that we have the audacity at times to cut them down. To think of an entire species of trees disappearing is depressing, and I hope that, in the fullness of time, this one will recover completely.
A Tanzanian forest. (Photo credit: William Warby.)
A species of monarch flycatcher bird, called the Rarotonga monarch, is recovering, its status improving from endangered to vulnerable. Endemic to the Cook Islands, it’s rare enough that I’ve provided below a photo of a related species. But hopefully this year’s trend will continue and it will be common as can be before long.
A related flycatcher species. (Photo credit: Dunog.)
To finish us off, I’d like to close with a conservation story that is actually happening right now. The Kihansi Spray Toad, extinct in the wild, is now being reintroduced thanks to conservation efforts from members of the IUCN.
(Photo credit: Toledo Zoo.)
The name comes from the unique home of these adorable amphibians. The toads live only in the vegetation soaked by the spray of the Kihansi falls, in Tanzania. A dam upstream reduced the flow, causing the vegetation to dry up. The reintroduction of the toads is the final phase of a long-term plan, which also included installing a sprinkler system to replace the missing freshwater spray of the falls.
There, that’s a somewhat happier environmental note to close a year on. I hope to see more conservation success stories in the year to come.
Photo credit: Kevin Bell - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.