With so much of the world’s wildlife in peril, conservation efforts can sometimes feel like only a drop in the bucket. However, each step towards protecting and restoring wildlife is a step in the right direction. When those efforts pay off, it calls for celebration; here’s a look at a few species making an amazing recovery!
Burmese Star Tortoise
Once found throughout deserts and grasslands of central Myanmar, Burmese star tortoises were brought to the brink of extinction in the 1990s by hunting and deforestation. By the early 2000s, they were considered ecologically extinct, with almost no wild tortoises to be found. In 2004, conservation efforts began with protection status, captive breeding, and wild reintroduction into protected areas.
Today, more than 2,000 Burmese star tortoises are once again thriving in their historically native regions. Colonies are primarily established in protected areas and lands guarded by anti-poaching wildlife rangers. While the tortoises are still endangered and face threats to their survival, conservation efforts thus far have been incredibly successful.
Grand Cayman Blue Iguana
One of the rarest lizards in the world, the Grand Cayman blue iguana is only found on Grand Cayman Island in the western Caribbean. As development on the island increased, this once-thriving species with a historical population of over 10,000 was nearly decimated.
In the early 2000s, the population of wild Grand Cayman blue iguanas reached an all-time low of around 30 individuals. The Blue Iguana Recovery Program was initiated to bring the species back from the brink of extinction. Through their conservation efforts, wildlife preserves were established, and over 1,000 blue iguanas were reintroduced into the wild.
While Grand Cayman blue iguanas are still listed as endangered and conservation efforts are ongoing, the Blue Iguana Recovery Program is considered a conservation success story!
One of the most widely recognized parrots in the world, the Scarlet Macaw is known for its vivid colors and distinct vocalizations. While not considered endangered due to their wide distribution range, Scarlet Macaws have seen alarming decreases in population in certain regions, primarily due to habitat loss and the illegal pet trade.
Wild populations of scarlet macaws have been decreasing throughout their native rainforest habitats of Central and South America for years, most notably in Guatemala. In 2004, the wildlife conservation organization ARCAS started a captive breeding program with rescued scarlet macaws that were seized from the illegal pet trade. Sadly, the captured birds could not be reintroduced, but their offspring produced in the sanctuary have been released.
To date, 48 scarlet macaws have been released into the Mayan Biosphere Reserve in northern Guatemala. These efforts will help bolster one of the last wild populations of these magnificent birds in Central America. While their numbers are still a far cry from what they once were, the efforts to save the scarlet macaw in Guatemala have had remarkable results!
Historically, bison roamed large swaths of prairie land throughout the United States, particularly in the Great Plains. Bison were crucial to their native ecosystem and the Native Americans that first inhabited the plains. Sadly, by the late 1800s, bison had pretty much been hunted to extinction by European settlers.
While much of the land that bison used to call home is now uninhabitable, conservationists have been working on reintroducing populations in appropriate areas. Since 2005, American Prairie, a conservation organization dedicated to restoring and protecting America’s prairie lands, has led bison reintroduction programs throughout the plains.
Over 30,000 bison have been reintroduced throughout some of their former native lands in South Dakota, Montana, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Arizona, and Colorado. Although their population will never reach the volume it once was, bison restoration efforts have thus far been successful!
Jaguars once roamed a large area between North, Central, and South America, but numbers have drastically decreased in recent years. Habitat loss and hunting are among the top causes.
The Wildlife Conservation Society has worked to protect and restore jaguar populations wherever possible. By establishing protected lands, providing local education on jaguars, and monitoring population numbers, they’ve given jaguars a bit of a comeback in several areas. WCS currently monitors over 5,000 jaguars in Ecuador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil.
In the US, jaguars historically inhabited the southern areas of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Although there have been a few alleged sightings in recent years, experts believe the big cat is all but extinct in the US. Credible sightings have been documented along the US/Mexico border, and the WCS has proposed a US Jaguar Recovery Plan. Although the plan has not been given the green light yet, the work WCS has done already in South, and Central America spells a more promising future for the jaguar.
Giant pandas have long been an icon in the wildlife conservation movement. Once native to large areas of mountainous forests in China, poaching and deforestation drove them to the brink of extinction over several decades in the 1900s.
Although conservation efforts for the giant panda go back to the 1940s with land protections, wild populations continued to decline at an alarming rate. In the 1980s, wild panda populations reached an all-time low of around 1,100 and they were listed as an endangered species.
Protected panda reserves and breeding programs were established to help boost the population. In 2021, the species reached a population of over 1,800 and was officially taken off the endangered species list. While the species is still considered vulnerable, the recovery of the giant panda is known as one of the greatest conservation success stories of all time!