Article by: Jane Marsh, Editor-in-Chief of Environment.co
All creatures play an essential role in ecosystem health and resilience. Therefore, wildlife that rebounds from a threatened or endangered status is something to celebrate. Yet, some might wonder how certain species find themselves in trouble and which species’ comebacks give the world hope for the future.
Why Do Species Become Endangered?
Scientists warn extinction is happening at a rate they’ve never seen before. Whereas historically, natural extinction amounted to about five species annually, the Earth now loses species at a rate of 1,000 to 10,000 more than it was. In fact, reports indicate we’ll lose 30% to 50% of all species by 2050.
Humans have undoubtedly been the primary cause of wildlife endangerment. The species has led to over 500 extinction events in 500 years — of which there are more than 142,500 threatened or endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List.
Common human-centric causes for wildlife extinctions are:
- Poaching wild animals.
- Overharvesting plants.
- Habitat loss.
- Human-wildlife conflicts.
- Release of invasive species in the wild.
Conversely, some species are more susceptible to diseases, have lower reproduction rates or require highly specialized conditions to survive.
Yet, mammals aren’t the only species at risk of extinction. Several plant species also classify as threatened or endangered — fortunately, some have recuperated. For instance, scientists rediscovered Brachystelma attenuatum 188 years after its extinction in the Indian Western Himalayas.
North Carolina conservationists also brought the smooth coneflower back using fire methods for vegetation control after its extinction in 1992. The flower may be vulnerable to bacteria, viruses and mites, which could harm it without proper supervision. As such, scientists likely use integrated pest management systems to help reduce the need for chemical pesticides and improve plant health and growth.
5 Endangered Species on the Rise
If you’re worried about animal extinction, there’s reason to maintain hope. These five endangered species are on the rise again.
1. Black Rhinos
As poaching levels declined in South Africa recently, black rhinos have replenished their numbers. Between 2012 and 2018, the black rhino population saw a 2.5% annual growth rate, boosting their numbers from 4,845 to 5,630. However, while the numbers are going in the right direction, there’s still a 70% risk of extinction from hunting and reproductive variance.
2. Humpback Whales
The humpback whale lost nearly 95% of its population before politicians signed strict whaling regulations into law. The species has undergone a population boom but is still threatened by boating noise pollution, vessel strikes and marine debris. Today, researchers estimate there are 25,000 humpback whales — almost as many as they presume was the population before whaling in the 1700s.
3. Mountain Gorillas
Scientists watched mountain gorillas’ numbers decline for decades due to poaching, disease and habitat loss. Although the population remains very low in their native Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the total number has amassed 1,063 confirmed gorillas, up from 680 in 2008.
Climate change continues to threaten the highly vulnerable gorilla species. Research has shown 86% of primate habitats will experience temperatures 3° Celsius higher than other ecosystems by 2050. With increasing droughts, a lack of drinking water availability will place undue stress on the species.
Like many large land mammals, overhunting has dwindled the tiger population in Nepal. However, a July 2022 press release by the World Wildlife Fund highlighted a species comeback.
Since 2009, Nepal’s commitment to tiger conservation has resulted in a historic 190% increase in its tiger population to 355 confirmed individuals — nearly triple what it was. Under the Global Tiger Recovery Program, Nepal was able to protect primary tiger habitats and partner with locals to control poaching and illegal wildlife trading.
5. Stellar Sea Lion
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, one of the two populations of the Stellar sea lion has struggled to maintain its numbers. The western distinct population segment (DPS) has dropped 77% to 81% since the 1970s, while the eastern DPS of Stellar sea lions increased 4.25% annually between 1987 and 2017.
Studies suggest, in addition to typical challenges — boat collisions, hunting, overfishing of the species’ food supply — warming sea temperatures from global warming have significantly altered their diet. Once consuming high-quality mackerel and sardines, Stellar sea lions now eat low-caloric surface-level fish, leaving them hungry and vulnerable to sea disturbances.
A Bright Future for Wildlife
Much work is needed to prevent more species from being added to the IUCN Red List. For one thing, tackling climate change can vastly improve species’ susceptibility to extinction. Considering these species were nearly lost forever, their comeback gives the world hope for the future.