List Words : Wanderlust team | 12 October

Back from the brink: 7 good news wildlife conservation stories from around the world

It’s not all ‘bad news’ when it comes to wildlife conservation. From African elephants in Chad to Channel island foxes in the US, here are the 7 inspiring stories of species whose numbers are increasing.

1: African elephants, Zakouma National Park, Chad

A baby African elephant running (Dreamstime)

The problem: 

Between 2006 and 2010, poaching saw the 4,000-strong elephant population of Chad’s Zakouma NP sink to just 400, with surrounding border conflicts making any response next to impossible. Back then, it was predicted that over the next few years their population would be wiped out entirely. 

What happened: 

South Africa-based NGO African Parks stepped in. Security in the parks was reinforced, creating a safer environment for the elephants. There had been no new births for three years (2010-13), with the situation too stressful for the animals to breed. However, in 2016, nearly 70 baby elephants were born, as numbers rose back above 500. Visit them yourself between March and April, when the dry season makes it easier to spot the park’s wildlife. 

2: Channel Island foxes, Channel Islands National Park, California, USA

A Channel Island fox (Dreamstime)

The problem:

Six of of California’s eight Channel Islands are each home to an endemic subspecies of fox (Urocyon littoralis) that measure about the size of a house cat. By 2000, four of these islands’ unique variations – from San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz and Santa Catalina – were on the endangered list after being nearly wiped out by bald eagles, with as few as 15 animals found on San Miguel and Santa Rosa. 

What happened: 

A captive breeding programme has brought the population up to self-sustaining levels, from 700 on San Miguel to 2,100 on Santa Cruz. They’re now a lot easier to spot as you trek the hills and trails of the islands.

3: Beavers, Scotland, UK

A European beaver swimming (Dreamstime)

The problem: 

There weren’t any beavers. By the 16th century, beavers had been hunted to extinction in the UK, primarily for their fur, meat and ‘medicinal value’ – the oil secreted at the base of their tails was believed to cure headaches. So far, so idiotic…


What happened: 

You wait centuries for one beaver reintroduction to happen and then three come along at once. In Scotland, following a trial reintroduction in 2009, there is now a thriving population of 250 in Argyll & Bute’s Knapdale Forest – granted protected status by the Scottish government – while an unofficial population of around 100 has made Loch Tay their home. Meanwhile in Devon a new population is thriving – based around the River Otter – with Wales next on the list to consider reintroducing them. 

4: Mountain gorillas, Rwanda/Uganda/DRC

A Mountain gorilla and her baby (Dreamstime)

The problem: 

In 1989, populations in the Virunga Mountains and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest fell to just 620 due to war, illegal logging, disease and poaching. Mountain gorillas remain on the World Wildlife Fund’s critically endangered list. 

What happened: 

As of 2015, the mountain gorillas of the Virunga were the only (non-human) primate species in the world whose numbers were rising. Nearly 900 individuals now live in the parks of Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC, with limited group ‘encounter’ tours ensuring that their progress is not disturbed by visitors. 

5: West Indian manatees, Florida, USA

A manatee floating under water (Dreamstime)

The problem: 

Few creatures are as placid as the West Indian manatee. They’re slow moving, gentle and generally at their best when hoovering up plankton for eight hours a day in the freshwater shallows. Most individuals are found in the Florida Everglades, though by the late 1960s this was down to just a few hundred, as boat strikes and habitat loss took their toll. 

What happened: 

West Indian manatees were placed on the endangered species list back in 1967. But in April 2017, the US manatee population was finally ‘downlisted’, with its population now above 6,000 in Florida. This is good news for visitors to Florida’s Crystal River, the only place in the US where you can legally snorkel alongside these gentle behemoths (Nov-Mar). 

6: Blue iguanas, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands

A Blue iguana (Dreamstime)

The problem: 

In the 1990s, numbers of one of the biggest lizards in world, the Cayman Islands’ endemic blue iguana, had plummeted after being hunted to near-extinction by non-native cats and dogs. By 2003, there were just 15; by 2005, they were considered all but extinct in the wild.

What happened: 

Thankfully, the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme began a breeding facility at Grand Cayman’s QEII Royal Botanic Park, where numbers have slowly increased, with the population now nearing the 1,000 mark – though they’re still considered endangered. Visitors can even go behind the scenes themselves and see how it works year round.

7: Asiatic lions, Gir Forest National Park, India

An Asiatic lioness (Dreamstime)

The problem: 

The Asiatic lion survives in one small patch of forest in Rajasthan. Under the Raj, bored colonials had hunted them to near extinction, with only 20 left by the early 1900s when the Nawab of Junagadh banned the hunt within his private grounds (now Gir Forest NP). Numbers were only up to 411 in 2010.

What happened: 

By 2015, the population had increased to 523. Patrols, land management and veterinary support have helped numbers remain steady, with a zoo-based breeding programme boosting the population. Visitors’ fees help the park maintain its animals, with a chance to not only see them (Oct-Jun) but help them, too.