10 Wildlife Success Stories of the Last Decade
Black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) live in and among colonies of black-tailed prairie dogs, their main food source. Cattle ranchers have had a long history of killing off whole colonies of prairie dogs, leading ferrets to decline as well. Listed as endangered in 1981, the black-footed ferret has now begun to rebound. Though far from fully recovered, biologists have re-established populations in several areas of the Western U.S., and as of 2008, ferrets numbered around 750 in the wild. Biologists aim for 1,500 wild ferrets by 2010. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service decided not to list the black-tailed prairie dog as endangered in 2009, which would have been a boon to ferret recovery.
This all-black vulture relative with a massive wing span plummeted to functional extinction in the wild by 1987, when biologists brought the last California condors (Gymnogyps californianus) into captivity. It took a few years to figure out how to get condors to successfully breed in captivity, but with time, they had success. By 1991 biologists began reintroducing them, first in California and then in Arizona. California condors had declined due to several things, including DDT, lead poisoning from ingesting bullets, and persecution by cattle ranchers. Considered the most expensive reintroduction program in the U.S., the first wild condor fledged in 2003, and as of 2009 some 172 condors now live wild and free.
Once hunted to near oblivion, the gray wolf (Canis lupus) has recovered to the point where the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service took the species off the endangered species list last year. A 2000 court ruling allowed their return to Yellowstone National Park, and by 2009 some states had opened a hunting season on the canines. Though conservation groups aren’t happy about that, a state judge has since stated that he may overturn the ruling, deeming the delisting premature. Nonetheless, the return of gray wolf populations – true symbols of the wild – to many areas of the U.S. should give us hope.
Brown pelicans were also removed from the Endangered Species Act in 2009, another fantastic success story. Once driven to near extinction due first to hunting for their feathers and persecution by fishermen, and then in the 20th century due to effects of the chemical pesticide DDT, brown pelican numbers have rebounded throughout the coastal United States and Caribbean. Around 200,000 live in the U.S. and 450,000 live in South America.
The majestic bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) declined from a high of 300,000-500,000 animals to a low of 50 nesting pairs in the lower 48 in the 1950s, mainly due to eggshell thinning caused by the pesticide DDT. After the U.S. government banned DDT in 1972, America's national bird started to recover. The U.S. downlisted the species from endangered to threatened in 1995, and delisted them completely in 2007.
Western Lowland Gorillas
In 2008, biologists discovered a whole new population of Western lowland gorillas in the rainforests of the Republic of Congo. Biologists from the Wildlife Conservation Society and others censused the new population at 125,000 individuals in the new population, more than doubling the known population of Western lowland gorillas, which now stands at around 175,000 to 225,000.
Oysters rebound in Chesapeake Bay
Oyster populations have declined in the West, but have rebounded in Chesapeake Bay, due to the establishment of artificial reefs. Overharvesting caused the oysters (Crassostrea virginica) to decline from a population high that numbered in the billions, and past efforts to restore populations had proven mostly fruitless. Artificial reefs have been very successful at bringing oysters back from the brink.
The recovery of whales
Blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) – the largest animal ever to have lived on earth – had declined 99% of their former numbers from commercial whaling through the 1960s. Once commercial whaling was banned internationally, the blue whale started to recover. More than 1,700 can be found off the Pacific coast. Northern humpbacks (Megaptera novaeangliae) had declined to a low of 1,200 animals but now number upwards of 8,000 individuals, not quite to the high of 125,000 in their glory days. Gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus), fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus), and bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) are counted among the whale species that have seen recovery in their numbers since commercial whaling ceased.
Panama Amphibian Rescue
Concerned about drastic declines of frogs and other ampihibians in Central America, biologists formed the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project. When the chytrid fungus Bd reaches an area, it wipes out 50% of the amphibian species there within five months. So biologists started collecting representative individuals of many species in Panama and brought them into captivity, in case they should go extinct in the wild.
Grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) numbers have tripled in Yellowstone since the 1980s, recolonizing much of their former habitat. Their recovery went so well that the population was delisted from the Endangered Species Act in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation praised this as a major conservation success story though not all conservationists agree. The NRDC sued the FWS to relist the grizzly and succeeded. On September 22, 2009 this population of grizzlies was relisted due to the decline of whitebark pine, the nuts of which provide a major food source for the bears.