Amid so much bad news about so many species of wildlife in danger of extinction, it is encouraging that there are finally some good stories about endangered wild animals.
There has been good news regarding rhinoceros conservation in India. The Indian state of Assam’s environmental ministry recently revealed that the population of Indian one-horned rhinoceros in the state had grown by 27% since 2006, hitting a high of 2544 animals. The Indian government has a goal of 3000 rhinos by 2020. There were only about 200 Indian rhinos in the early 1990s.
“That represents a tremendous success for conservation,” said Barney Long of the World Wildlife Fund. “We know how to save rhinos. You have to protect their habitat and you have to protect the animals themselves.”
A third element involves moving the animals into new, safe habitats as their populations increase. “When rhino populations get too dense, they decrease their breeding rate,” he said.
There was further good news from India, this time about Bengal tigers. India’s tiger population has risen by nearly 30% over the past four years. While poaching remains the greatest threat to wild tigers today, the latest count released by the Indian government appears to show that this tiger species can recover and thrive.
India has about 70% of the world’s wild tigers, despite a growing human population and resource extraction pressures on their habitat.
The latest estimate of tiger numbers published by the Ministry of Environment and Forests claims a rise from 1411 in 2006 to 1706 in 2011 and 2226 in 2014. The current tiger population is a fraction of the estimated 45,000 that roamed India a century ago.
Most live in 50 nature reserves set up since the 1970s, which range from the hills in the north-east to the central Indian forests, the western Ghats, to the mangrove-rich Sundarbans delta. The natural habitat of tigers in India – tropical evergreen forests, deciduous forests, mangrove swamps, thorn forests and grass jungles — has almost disappeared outside reserves. Even inside designated zones, unchecked development of tourism and other industries has restricted space and food.
About 40 tigers were killed by poachers in India in 2013 — the highest number since 2005. Prosecution of poachers is rare, convictions even more rare and intelligence-led preventive policing non-existent.
India’s environment minister, Prakash Javadekar, said the latest figures demonstrated that the current strategy of creating reserves staffed by specialist government staff was working.
He attributed the rise in tiger numbers to voluntary relocation of forest-dwellers from core forests, a severe crackdown on the hunting of prey animals, improved patrols against poaching, safeguards against harmful land-use changes and constant monitoring.
Recently, there was good news about one of the world’s most iconic animals. The wild population of giant pandas has risen by 268 individuals over the past decade, to a total of 1864 animals, according to the latest Chinese survey. This represents a total rise of 16.8%.
Found only in China’s Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces, giant pandas are listed as endangered on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.
The only surviving member of its genus, the giant panda lives almost solely on bamboo. It is currently threatened by habitat loss and land degradation.
The survey also found that giant pandas are expanding their range. The species now covers 2.57 million hectares, an expansion of 11.8% since 2003. About one-third of the animals live outside protected nature reserves.
Despite a positive trend in the number of wild giant pandas, the species still faces challenges. Habitat fragmentation — the separation of wildlife populations by physical barriers — is increasingly noticeable. About 12% of giant pandas face higher risks to their survival.
Though there appears to be a decline in traditional threats to pandas such as poaching, large-scale infrastructure projects, such as mining, hydro-power, roads and railways, are becoming more severe and were referenced in the survey for the first time.
More inspiring news is that the Amur leopard population has also risen. The population of one of the world's rarest leopards has almost doubled in the past eight years, showing that recent conservation efforts are beginning to bear fruit.
In an amazing tale of recovery, at least 57 Amur leopards now live in Russia’s Land of the Leopard National Park, up from just 30 in 2007, according to new census data announced recently. An extra 8–12 Amur Leopards were counted in adjoining areas of China.
For the census, camera traps were spread out over more than 365,000 hectares of leopard habitat. Scientists then reviewed 10,000 images and recorded nearly 60 individual animals, identified by the distinctive pattern of spots on the leopards’ fur. The census was carried out by the Land of the Leopard National Park with the support of The Amur Leopard Centre and WWF-Russia.
The Land of the Leopard National Park, which was established in 2012, includes all of the Amur leopard’s known breeding areas and about 60% of the critically endangered cat’s remaining habitat.
Conservationists are also working towards monitoring leopard populations in neighbouring Chinese nature reserves. One of the highly anticipated next steps would be the establishment of a Sino-Russian trans-border nature reserve.
Dr Barney Long, Director of Species Conservation for WWF-US, said: “There’s still a lot of work to be done in order to secure a safe future for the Amur leopard, but these numbers demonstrate that things are moving in the right direction,” said.
The key to successful wildlife conservation involves protection of habitat in wildlife reserves. The main threat to endangered animals remains habitat loss, but a survival strategy requires a multi-faceted focus.
Wildlife organisations also need to protect animals from poachers and try to reduce human/wildlife conflict by providing community-based, sustainable development and conservation programs that raise awareness and support for threatened species. Community involvement is a vital part of the solution to the loss of the world’s precious wildlife.
In these examples we can see that wildlife conservation efforts to save some of the world’s rarest animals are working in bringing endangered species back from the brink of extinction.