Good News: 9 Recovering Iconic Species

Thousands of species are threatened with extinction, but conservation efforts are helping a few make comebacks.

We hear plenty of bad news about our planet’s shrinking biodiversity. Some 26,500 species of plants and animals are known to be threatened with extinction, according to the red list of the IUCN, an international conservation group. However, fewer than 2 million species have been discovered on this globe, and scientists estimate there may be 100 million yet to identify. So nobody knows how many are endangered or have already gone extinct in recent yeas, due to the various ways humans encroach on or otherwise damage habitat.

Photo: Julie Larsen Maher via WCS


The largest cat in the Americas, “the jaguar has been threatened by habitat depletion due to the conversion of forest for development and agriculture, and killing in response to the loss of livestock,” WCS said. “The jaguar is now restricted to the extreme northern limits of Argentina in its southern range, while it has been eliminated across much of its historic range in Central America.” Due to conservation efforts, populations have stabilized or are growing. “Jaguars have shown signs of recovery in their northern range and may possibly return to the southern U.S.,” WCS said.

Photo: Julie Larsen Maher via WCS

Humpback Whales

Humpback whales are everywhere, from just off New York City’s beaches to oceans around the world, involving several different populations. Whaling long ago took a toll on these beasts. Most of the world’s humpback populations have increased with protections, and all but four have been removed from the U.S. Endangered Species List.

Photo: WCS

Burmese Star Tortoises

Burmese star tortoises are found only in a dry region of Myanmar. They were nearly wiped out in the mid-1990s by wildlife markets in China. A WCS breeding program grew the population from around 175 to more than 14,000 today, both wild and captive.

Photo: Eleanor Briggs via WCS

Greater Adjutant Storks

Collecting of eggs and chicks caused the number of breeding pairs of this Cambodian bird to fall to about 30, and after a decade of conservation efforts there are more than 200 now.

Photo: Julie Larsen Maher via WCS

Kihansi Spray Toads

“The Kihansi spray toad is the first amphibian species to be successfully restored to the wild after being declared extinct in nature,” WCS said. A dam built 20 years ago “dramatically changed the mist environment relied upon by these unique toads — found nowhere else on earth.” Before they went extinct, the Tanzanian government worked with WCS to breed some. An artificial misting system now replicates the spray zone, and the Bronx Zoo has sent some 8,000 toads back to Tanzania.

Photo: WCS

Maleos in Sulawesi

“In Indonesia’s Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park, endemic and endangered maleos are rapidly recovering, thanks to solid efforts focused on nesting ground management, semi-natural hatcheries, and local guardianship,” WCS said.

Photo: Camila Ferrara via WCS

Scarlet Macaws

The endangered scarlet macaw in Guatemala “is soaring back thanks to conservation interventions,” WCS said. Poaching and habitat loss had pushed the numbers down to about 250. “Over the last 15-plus years, WCS has intervened through an integrated approach, including law enforcement monitoring, community-based conservation, field science, aviculture and husbandry, such as incubating eggs and hand raising at-risk chicks.” The fledging rate is now the highest it’s been in 17 years.

Photo: WCS

Tigers in Western Thailand

Panthera tigris suffered the plight of many large cats: poaching. Increase ranger patrols have brought the species back from just 41 in 2010 to 66 today.

Photo: Julie Larsen Maher via WCS

American Bison

Tens of millions of bison (they are not buffalo) roamed the plains of North American until they were slaughtered by settlers, reducing the population to about 1,100 in the early 1900s. “WCS field and Bronx Zoo conservationists have worked to protect and restore bison since the early 1900s when our founder, William Hornaday, rallied conservationists, politicians, and ranchers to start new herds of bison at nine locations around the U.S.” That campaign evolved into “the first major wildlife conservation success in world history,” WCS says.

Independent health and science journalist, former editor-in-chief of LiveScience, writing about how we age and how to optimize your mind and body through time.