This past month, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released an update to its Red List of Threatened Species, the most complete compilation of species at risk. The IUCN makes updates multiple times yearly and includes species globally. To the excitement of conservationists worldwide, ten endangered species had shown an increase in numbers since the last report.
It is rare enough to have an improved outlook for a single animal species. Improvement in the classifications often suggests that humans are getting better at identifying habitats with species in need and addressing that need.
The Improved Endangered Species
A few of the ten species that had a reversed outlook include the Echo Parakeet and the Guam Rail. Two Australian species, the Australian trout cod and the Pedder galaxias, a freshwater fish, improved in numbers.
The latter two are especially exciting because of the current environmental crisis in Australia. The population in Australia has pushed for major changes to preserve their land and the diverse, unique species that live there as the threat of climate change has become more real.
The new data from the IUCN confirms that efforts for two species have succeeded.
Reclassification of the Guam Rail, a flightless bird previously listed as extinct in the wild, represents a victory over invasive species.
The bird had fallen prey to an invasive species of tree snake, and which hunted them to the point of extinction in their natural habitat.
However, captive breeding programs were able to bring the bird back from the brink of total extinction, and eventually accumulate enough of the animals to reintroduce them into the wild.
This is the second time that researchers have been successful in reintroducing a bird to a native habitat with this procedure, representing improvements and fine-tuning in the process increasing probabilities of favorable outcomes.
Success of Breeding in Captivity
The Guam Rail isn’t the only species in the recent past that has benefited from captive breeding programs.
A mammalian species native to England, the harvest mouse, was discovered to have a thriving community after scientists initially thought their reintroduction efforts had failed. In 2004, a PhD student released 240 harvest mice from a captive breeding program to Northumberland.
It was not until a decade and a half later, in the fall months of this year, that researchers found mice nests near the area of release.
Scientists are currently conducting studies to quantify populations of mice in the area.
Overall, however, these two cases provide evidence that captive breeding programs, followed by calculated reintroduction to the wild, is a technique that we can use to save animals in danger of going extinct completely.
While certainly not a plan we should rely on or expect to fix all decimation of wildlife, it can help reduce senses of helplessness and encourage sentiments of activism.
Not All Good News
Unfortunately, the IUCN conference did not bring only good news. Along with the 10 species that had improved outlooks, researchers announced that 73 species had a decline in classification.
The IUCN now lists, in total, 112,432 species as some form of threatened, and about a quarter of these are about to go extinct.
The Trump administration is not helping the matter, heightening conditions to approve federal protections for endangered species.
Trump has also approved an extremely low number of species to become classified as “endangered” in the United States. Only 21 species have joined the list since his inauguration day nearly three years ago.
In the same time period, President Obama added 71. President George W. Bush approved 25, and attention to climate change was less during his terms.
This statistic comes after a rollback of endangered species protections in August.
These new changes allow for economic considerations to be weighed when deciding how much protection to give an animal. The rollback allows for industry, such as oil, foresting, and farming, to come before the protection of biodiversity.
What We Can Do To Help Endangered Species
Protection of endangered species is perhaps, in terms of legislation, one of the less complicated matters of climate change.
With proper protection and effort from the humans who live around them, animal species at risk can rebound. We have ten pieces of proof that this is possible.
Reinstatement of recently lifted restrictions protecting endangered species is incredibly important to save animals in the United States.
However, political charge makes it unlikely that these changes will be reversed soon. A less politically-divisive step to take in the meantime is to merge several disjointed lists of endangered species data into a single, more comprehensive list.
Currently, separate classifications for species exist at the state, federal, and international levels (such as the IUCN Red List).
States can list a species as endangered, without the federal government doing so. As such, the animal will not receive federal protections. By joining these three levels of lists, we can protect the greatest number of animals.
Once a species is gone, we cannot get it back. The human race has already let go of an unknowable amount of biodiversity.
We are developed enough as a society to know the impact we are having on habitats and their inhabitants. But we must decide if we are going to put in the effort to protect them or not.