Ten animals we have saved from extinction
More than one million species are threatened with extinction, but hope isn't lost for nature. There are still many conservation success stories to be celebrated.
Over the last century, passionate and committed organisations and communities have pulled many animals and plants back from the brink - and now these species are thriving.
Discover their stories below.
Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus)
Peregrine falcons are large birds of prey, known for their speed. They dive-bomb their target at more than 320 kilometres an hour, making them the fastest animal in the world.
These falcons live nearly all over the world, including by the coast, in the desert and on mountain peaks. Despite this adaptability, peregrine falcons became an endangered species in the 1970s.
Pesticides, particularly a synthetic pesticide called DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane), contaminated their diet of other birds and fish. Hunting, loss of habitat, egg collection, trading and other human disturbances also contributed.
The population started increasing after DDT was banned in the US in 1972. Conservation work such as captive breeding programmes and large-scale protection of nesting places also helped save the species from extinction.
Mallorcan midwife toad (Alytes muletensis)
Mallorcan midwife toads are one of the smallest toads in the world with an unusual way of raising their young.
Females lay a string of between seven and 12 eggs. Males then wind the string of eggs around their legs and carry them on their backs until the young tadpoles are ready to hatch.
The isolated species does not handle habitat change very well. They were once thought to be extinct but were rediscovered in Mallorca in the 1970s. The introduction of non-native species, particularly the viperine snake, has limited the toads to small streams in limestone mountain tops.
Changes in land and water use to accommodate a growing human population and rural tourism also contributed to the diminishing population.
Conservation actions, including captive breeding programmes helped increase the number, distribution and range. As a result, the Mallorcan midwife toad is now the only amphibian species to have its conservation status downgraded by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) from critically endangered to vulnerable.
Sea otter (Enhydra lutris)
Sea otters are a keystone species which means they play an important role in keeping the balance of coastal ecosystems around northern and eastern North Pacific Ocean.
These cute, furry mammals feed on invertebrates including clams and sea urchins, which would otherwise run rampant and devour entire kelp forests.
Kelp forests are important for several reasons, not least because they provide food and shelter for many other marine animals and birds, store carbon dioxide and protect coastal areas from storms.
Sea otters do not have any blubber to keep them warm - instead they have extremely thick fur. The fur is estimated to have a million hairs per square inch, making it the densest in the animal kingdom.
Their lush fur meant that sea otters were hunted extensively in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Their numbers dropped to as low as 2,000 individuals.
An international ban on hunting along with conservation efforts and reintroduction programmes encouraged the population to grow. Sea otters now occupy two thirds of their former range, although they are still classified as endangered.
Fen orchid (Liparis loeselii)
Found in just a handful of sites in the UK, the fen orchid is one of the most endangered wildflowers in Europe.
The small, pale yellow flowers of the fen orchid grow only in coastal sand dunes or open fenlands.
In fenlands, the roots grow perched on clumps of moss that form on peat or sedge tussocks. In sand dunes, the plant grows on damp sand left behind when the top dry layer is blown away by wind.
Fen orchids once occupied eight sand dune systems along the coast of south Wales and several other sites in eastern England, but numbers diminished, largely due to habitat deterioration. Just a few hundred plants were left, in Wales and Norfolk.
But after a decade of conservation work, the fen orchid is starting to bounce back. The plants are legally protected, and the dunes and fens have been restored. In 2019 more than 4,000 fen orchids were counted by conservation group Plantlife.
Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus)
Blue whales were hunted to near extinction for their oil and fat, which were used for products such as margarine, soap and lamp lights.
Baleen - the thick, coarse bristles in their mouths used to catch food - was a valuable by-product because it is strong, flexible and light weight. It was even used to make corsets.
Hundreds of thousands of blue whales were slaughtered in early- to mid-twentieth century, when the whaling industry peaked. They were finally given legal protection in 1966 by the International Whaling Commission. Since then their population has slowly recovered, although there are still far fewer blue whales in our oceans than there once were.
Island night lizard (Xantusia riversiana)
These medium-sized reptiles only live on a few islands off the coast of southern California. Unusual for lizards, they give birth to live young instead of laying eggs.
When humans introduced non-native species such as goats and pigs to the islands, they damaged their habitat. Feral cats and rats also ate the lizards, who were added to the list of endangered animals in 1977.
Since then, invasive species have been removed, the land has been replenished and the public have been educated.
It is estimated that there are now over 21 million island night lizards on three islands, culminating in the removal from the endangered list. The IUCN now classifies the lizard as least concern.
Rodrigues fruit bat (Pteropus rodricensis)
Rodrigues fruit bats once lived on multiple islands in the Indian Ocean, but they are now confined to Rodrigues.
These sociable creatures roost in large groups in dense forests which provide protection from the severe weather their island home often experiences.
The bats are important pollinators and seed dispersers as they feed on fruits and flowers, crushing the food against their palate and spitting out the seeds. Without them, many native plants would be unable to reproduce.
Deforestation has posed a serious threat to the species. Fragmentation of the rainforest means the area is less protected against tropical cyclones. This can cause a shortage of food and roosting places for the bats, and can even mean they are blown out to sea.
Thanks to successful captive breeding programmes in 46 zoos around the world, habitat conservation, watershed protection, and education in local communities, the population is increasing.
Despite the positive increase, the bats are still listed by the IUCN as endangered due to their limited geographic range.
Fisher's estuarine moth (Gortyna borelii lunata)
Fisher's estuarine moths are extremely rare because they require a highly specialised environment.
These medium-sized moths feed exclusively on hog's fennel, a spindly wildflower that grows near the sea but cannot tolerate saltwater. The moths lay eggs on coarse grass and upon hatching, the caterpillars migrate to the wildflowers to feed.
The density of hog's fennel in an area is important. Too much means there won't be enough grass for the moths to lay eggs on, and too little means there won't be enough food - one plant is able to feed only one larva.
In addition, hog's fennel must be in its third year of growth to be sufficiently large enough to satisfy a caterpillar's appetite. The moths were at risk of extinction and found in only two locations in England: North Essex and Kent.
The biggest threats to these elusive flyers were rising sea levels and poor habitat management. Efforts made to maintain habitats and keep them safe from flooding has helped to sustain the population.
Pygmy Rwandan water lily (Nymphaea thermarum)
The smallest water lily in the world once lived around a thermal hot spring in Mashyuza, Rwanda.
Unusually, it grows on the surface of damp mud at 25°C precisely. The temperature exposes the plant to high levels of carbon dioxide and oxygen, which are needed for it to flourish.
The water lily became extinct in the wild due to the overexploitation of the hot spring which fed its habitat.
Fortunately, samples were collected by a botanist several years before its demise and sent to Bonn Botanical Garden in Germany and later, Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. After many trials and errors, it was cultivated successfully.
Shortnose sturgeon (Acipenser brevirostrum)
The shortnose sturgeon is a prehistoric fish as old as dinosaurs.
The bottom-feeder lacks scales and instead has five rows of bony plates (called scutes) along its body. Combined with its murky brown and bluish-black colour, the fish looks like it is wearing armour.
It was nearly driven to extinction from overfishing, habitat destruction and river damming.
The shortnose sturgeon was listed as endangered in 1967. This, along with captive breeding programmes and research, led to the birth of a superior generation and allowed the species to thrive in 41 bays and rivers in North America.
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