Yes, conservation efforts do work.
A number of animals who had all but disappeared in Europe have been making a comeback: that’s the cheering news from an analysis by the Zoological Society of London, Birdlife and the European Bird Census Council. Researchers looked at 18 mammals and 19 bird species across Europe and discovered that the numbers of all but one, the Iberian lynx, had increased since 1960.
“People have this general picture of Europe that we’ve lost all our nature and our wildlife.
“And I think what the rest of the world can learn from this is that conservation actually works. If we have the resources, a proper strategy, if we use our efforts, it actually works.”
Legal protections including a bird directive and a habitat directive, limits on hunting and changing demographics — people leaving rural areas for the city — have all played a part.
1. European bison
The largest herbivore in Europe, the European bison or wisent went extinct in the wild in the early 20th century as a result of hunting and habitat loss. Wild populations were reintroduced in central and eastern Europe, with a stronghold in Poland and Belarus, after a large-scale breeding program. The total population is now almost 3,000 individuals.
2. Eurasian beaver
Once widespread in Europe and Asia, the Eurasian beaver‘s numbers were drastically reduced to some 1,200 individuals in the early 20th century as a result of hunting for its fur and castoreum (a substance from their castor sacs used in perfumes, for medicinal purposes and as a flavoring for food). By 2006, the beavers’ numbers resurged to 639,000.
3. Grey wolf
The wolf’s numbers have grown by 30 percent in the past few decades. The return of the wolf — especially to Western European countries such as Germany and the Netherlands — is unnerving farmers, some of whom have lost sheep or other livestock to the predators.
4. White-headed duck
A migratory species that winters in Spain, the white-headed duck’s numbers have experienced a very rapid decline due to the draining and drying out (in part due to climate change) of the lakes in Central Asia where it breeds, and to competition from the socially dominant non-native North American Ruddy Duck. An estimated 7,900-13,100 individuals remain. In Spain, the decline in the duck’s numbers in Spain has been halted thanks to a ban on hunting.
5. Pink-footed goose
Another migratory species, the pink-footed goose, breeds in eastern Greenland, Iceland and Svalbard and winters in northwest Europe, especially Great Britain, the Netherlands and Denmark. Thanks to limits on hunting, populations of these geese have increased greatly in the last fifty years. In Great Britain, the numbers of wintering geese rose from 30,000 in 1950 to 292,000 in October 2004.
6. Brown bear
Once found throughout Northern Europe and eastwards into Russia, small populations persist (under threat) in the Pyrenees on the Spain-France border and in Italy. Larger numbers exist in Eastern Europe with the largest population of about 70,000 in Russia. Extensive hunting before the 1917 Russian Revolution had drastically reduced the population of bears, Russia’s iconic animal. Russia banned den hunting of brown bears in 2011.
7. Dalmatian pelican
After experiencing a massive decline in the 19th and 20th centuries, the very large Dalmatian pelican has stabilized its numbers in Europe to 4,350-4,800 (out of only around 10,000 – 13,900 worldwide). The species is still considered vulnerable. Due to wetland destruction, hunting, water pollution, pesticides and other threats, only about 50 Dalmatian pelicans remain in Mongolia — all the more reason to preserve the European population.
8. White-tailed Eagle
Legal protection had led to the regrowth of the European population of white-tailed eagles, one of the largest birds of prey in the world. Between 1800 and 1970, their numbers had fallen severely and they had become extinct in some countries. While there were fewer than 2,500 pairs in 1970, there were 9,600 pairs in 2010. The white-tailed eagle has also recently recolonized some of its former range in northern and Central Europe.
To address farmers’ concerns, Schepers of Rewilding Europe says that conservation schemes should be put in place to offset any losses. As Schepers underscores, “compared to the numbers in the 1600s and 1700s,” the wildlife count in Europe is still “at a very low level.”
As heartening as the report’s findings are, they are tempered by heavy losses (as much as 60 percent) of biodiversity in developing countries without the resources of those in the E. U. Just because the numbers of these eight species and others in Europe has been on the rise, we can’t rest on our laurels. The comeback of the European bison, Eurasian beaver and other animals is proof positive that wildlife can — thanks to concerted efforts — be brought back from the brink.
Photos from Thinkstock