Scientists associated with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) are doling out a dose of good news today. After more than a century of coordinated conservation efforts, the organization is rolling out its "9 for '19" list of recovering species expected to do better this year as a result of conservation efforts.
WCS consulted with scientists working under the Global Conservation Program and at the organization's zoos and aquarium for their take on the conservation status of some of the world's most iconic wildlife species. Founded in 1895 under the leadership of Theodore Roosevelt, the non-profit organization's mission is to conserve the world's largest wild places, prioritizing 16 regions home to more than half of the planet's biodiversity.
Burmese Star Tortoises
Found only in a dry region in central Myanmar, the Burmese star tortoise (Geochelone platynota) populations were decimated by demand from wildlife markets in southern China in the mid-1990s, ultimately leading to a classification of ecologically extinct. Collaborative efforts thereafter started with 175 individual turtles, most of which had been confiscated from wildlife traffickers, in captive breeding facilities. Now, experts estimate there are around 14,000 tortoises in both the wild and captivity, with 750 animals already released into now-protected areas.
Greater Adjutant Stork in Cambodia
Dubbed the world's rarest stork, Southeast Asia's greater adjutant storks (Leptoptilos dubius) have been brought back from the brink of extinction following local efforts to protect their flooded forest home on Cambodia's Tonle Sap. Their numbers had plummeted following unregulated collection of eggs and chicks in conjunction with the destruction of their primary nesting habitat. Today, populations have grown from just 30 to more than 200 pairs.
Jaguars in South America
After having their forested habitat depleted in the face of human development, the jaguar (Panthera onca) has been decimated across much of its historic range in Central America and is currently limited to northern Argentina. Conservation efforts over the last three decades have helped populations to grow by an average of almost 8 percent each year in certain regions, with signs of recovery in their northern ranges and a possible return to the southern US.
Around the world, humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) populations were once pushed to the edge of existence following intensive whaling practices. Now, their numbers are increasing across the globe with as much as 90 percent of populations recovered in certain regions namely due to international protection.
Tanzania's Kihansi Spray Toad
The inch-long Kihansi spray toad (Nectophrynoides asperginis) is the first amphibian species to have been successfully restored to the wild after having been declared extinct. In 2009, the Bronx Zoo collected a number of wild toads to preserve them against extinction, and in 2016, released 1,000 Kihansis born in zoos.
American bison (Bison bison) once roamed North America in the tens of millions before being decimated at the turn of the 20th century to just 1,100 individuals. Coordinated efforts between state, local, tribal, and federal governments with conservation organizations has since helped restore free-ranging bison to the Rocky Mountains and their populations are now considered stable.
Maleos in Sulawesi
Endemic only to northern Indonesia, maleo numbers have steadily declined in recent years due to increasing human development. The intertidal Macrocephalon maleo are now recovering after the establishment of Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park, whose enforcement efforts have led to a safe space for nesting birds to lay eggs.
Scarlet Macaws in Guatemala
Poaching and habitat loss have pushed Guatemala's scarlet macaws (Ara macao) towards extinction with only 250 individuals left in the nation's Maya Biosphere Reserve (MBR). A number of conservation efforts, including community-based conservation and husbandry, have led to the highest fledging rate in 17 years of monitoring, with an average of 1.14 fledglings per active nest.
Tigers in Western Thailand
Long-term efforts to combat poaching have boosted tiger (Panthera tigris) populations in Thailand's Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary. Tiger numbers have risen by 60 percent since 2010 to 66 individuals today.