The Cayman Islands' blue iguana is making a comeback (Flickr: pmarkham)
Blog Words : Penny Walker | 04 November

5 animals back from the brink of extinction

With the Cayman Islands' blue iguana on the road to recovery, we thought it's time to honour animals that have successfully clawed their way back from extinction

Having heard plenty of horror stories about wildlife recently, we've decided to inject some positive news with a list of animals making a comeback. From cute and fluffy to colossal and majestic, these animals are no longer on the brink of extinction and are great examples of how successful conservation efforts can be.

Blue iguana

The Grand Cayman Islands' blue iguana was only recently downgraded from Critically Endangered to Endangered on the IUCN's Red List.

A decade ago, there were only 10 to 25 of these remarkable turquoise reptiles left on the planet. Thanks to the efforts of the Blue Iguana Recovery Program, coordinated by the National Trust for the Cayman Islands, more than 500 captive-bred adults have been released into the wild since 2002.

The recovery programme involves captive breeding, habitat protection, research and monitoring. With so few numbers, many were sceptical that the island's namesake iguana would survive, so this is a great success story for conservation.

1. Gharial crocodiles

The only surviving members of an ancient group of crocodiles, the Gharial is predominantly found in India's deep rivers. These unique looking crocodiles have much narrower jaws than their cousins, with an elongated snout and needle-like teeth.

There are thought to have been between five and ten thousand individuals in the wild in the 1940s. Hunted for their skin and eggs, numbers quickly dwindled. In 2008, the number of adult gharials in the wild dropped to 100.

The lack of rain throughout India this year has been a significant turning point for the gharial. Unhindered by the floods that usually wipe out a large number of their eggs, more than 2,000 young have reportedly hatched. Thanks to the conservation efforts of India's National Chambal Sanctuary, there are now thought to be 1,500 adults and juveniles in the wild; not including this year's hatchlings.

2. Black-footed ferret

Thought to be globally extinct, the black-footed ferret was rediscovered near Meeteetse in Wyoming when a dog brought his owners a 'gift' in 1981. The only ferret native to North America, their main prey are prairie dogs who they hunt in their burrows before adopting their homes.

Following an intensive search, researchers discovered just under 130 black-footed ferrets in Meeteetse. With a break-out of sylvatic plague in 1985, biologists decided to capture some of the ferrets in order to ensure their survival. Following reintroduction, it is believed that there are now well over 1,000 black-footed ferrets in the wild today.

3. Humpback whale

The whaling industry led to a massive decline in all species of whale, although thankfully none were hunted to extinction.

The humpback whales' numbers recovered rapidly when a global ban was placed on whaling. Humpbacks are many traveller's favourite whale to watch. They are the most easily identifiable and aside from their mysterious songs, they frequently jump, breach and displaying their vast tail fin (fluke). They migrate epic distances every year from summer feeding grounds near the poles to warmer winter breeding waters.

Their numbers have recovered to such an extent that they are now a 'least concern' on the IUCN's Red List of endangered species.

4. Kakapo parrot

The world's heaviest parrot, the Kakapo, faced extinction when in 1995 there were only 50 known surviving birds on a handful of small island sanctuaries off the coast of New Zealand. Human colonisation and the introduction of foreign predators such as stoats, cats and rats caused the numbers of Kakpo to plummet.

This ground-dwelling, flightless parrot has a subsonic mating boom that can travel several kilometres. Although they now number over 126 in the wild, they are not yet out of the woods. By isolating these slow moving birds on smaller islands away from speedy predators, conservationists have ensured their continued survival.

5. Golden lion tamarin

In the running as Brazil's mascot for the 2016 Olympics, the recovery of the golden lion tamarin, also known as the golden marmoset, is a success story of international collaboration. It is the only primate to have been declared extinct in the wild and then successfully reintroduced.

With a large proportion of their habitat destroyed, landowners and farmworkers learned how to make a living from the trees that the squirrel-sized monkeys depend on to survive. Consequently, the population has grown to 1,700 in Rio de Janeiro state, the only place that they can be found in the wild.

The Olympics could go even further to help this strikingly coloured primate as the city has promised to plant 24 million trees in an attempt to carbon-offset the games.

And one more success... bald eagle

In 1967, there were fewer than 450 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the United States. The use of DDT (an insecticide) following World War II was largely responsible for their decline; poisoning the fish that are their main food source. Having to resort to livestock for prey, many were shot by farmers.

Completely wiped out in some areas, a captive breeding programme worked to repopulate the endangered bird that is the symbol of the United States. The eagle has now been de-listed and is no longer classified as endangered.

Bald eagles remain protected and cannot be killed, captured or harassed. Laws in the US also protect the trees and key waterways that the eagles rely on for nesting and hunting.

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