Thanks to the restoration of ecosystems, 6 endangered species were saved

Collapsing plant, animal and insect populations worldwide, on land and in the oceans, are raising fears of a sixth mass extinction on planet Earth, with catastrophic consequences for humans and nature.

Of the 8 million species recorded in the world, one million are threatened with extinction. Ecosystem services essential to human well-being, including food and freshwater supplies and protection from disasters and disease, are being eroded in many places.

But hope is not lost. As part of the United Nations Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, efforts are underway to restore damaged terrestrial and marine habitats, from mountains and mangroves to forests and farmland.

In addition to providing important benefits to humans, restored ecosystems provide refuge for many endangered species. There are six endangered mammals, reptiles and birds that have been brought out of danger of extinction thanks to restoration.

Saiga antelope wins

A saiga antelope in Kazakhstan. After a horrific mass die-off in 2015, saigas have experienced a baby boom in recent years. Photo: Unsplash/Dasha Urvachova

The goat-sized and long-nosed saiga antelope once roamed the grasslands of Europe and China in their millions. But overhunting, loss of habitat and migration routes, and the spread of disease have reduced their numbers to remnant populations in Kazakhstan, Russia, and Mongolia.

In Kazakhstan, restoration efforts, including the Altin Dala conservation initiative, are protecting and revitalizing 7.5 million hectares of deserts, semi-deserts, and deserts, and are already paying off. Despite the mass extinction of 200,000 saigas in 2015, Kazakhstan’s population has grown from less than 50,000 animals in 2006 to more than 1.3 million animals today.

Gorillas raise themselves

Gorilla in tall grass
Gorilla numbers have doubled in the last 30 years thanks to conservation, recovery and animal health measures. Photo: UNEP

There are only a thousand mountain gorillas left in the wild, confined to two cloud forests in Central Africa. However, this figure has steadily increased since the 1980s and is the result of conservation and restoration efforts that translate into tourism revenue for protected area authorities and communities.

Half of the remaining gorillas live in the Virunga massif, a tripartite protected area of ​​volcanoes that straddles the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Threats including insecurity, climate change and disease mean great apes are always at risk.

Restoration work in the area has cleared more than 1,000 hectares of exotic trees in Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, rehabilitated more than 1,000 hectares and allowed native forest species to return, and there are plans for more restoration in the area.

Jaguars at work

Jaguars playing at the reintroduction center in Argentina.
The Jaguars are playing at the reintroduction center in Argentina. Photo: Rafael Abuin

While the need to preserve the Amazon is in focus, special attention is being paid to the restoration of the lesser-known neighboring forest, the Atlantic Forest. More than 80% of the vast forest along Brazil’s coast, extending into Paraguay and Argentina, has been lost to agriculture, logging and infrastructure.

Large-scale restoration efforts are underway to counter serious degradation of this biodiversity hotspot. This includes reforesting abandoned land and creating wildlife corridors between protected areas, strategies that help protect predators such as endangered jaguars and margays.

The world’s southernmost jaguar population is located in the Upper Paraná region of the Atlantic Forest, which straddles the borders of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. Here, reducing deforestation and restoring thousands of hectares of former forest has led to a nearly 160% increase in jaguar numbers since 2005.

Let the dugong graze in peace

Eating dugong.
The dugong feeds on seagrass beds, which are the animal’s main food source. Photo: Unsplash/Ray Aucott

Ecosystem restoration is just as important in water as it is on land. Vital habitats destroyed and degraded in the ocean include seagrass beds important to marine species, including dugongs, as well as fish that sustain coastal communities around the world.

Dolphin-like dugongs, whose gentle expression and love of shallow waters may have been the source of old mermaid tales, have disappeared from much of their vast range due to entanglement with hunting and fishing gear and the loss of the seagrasses they feed on.

But the recovery and protection of the last bastions, which include Australia, Mozambique and the Persian Gulf, offer hope that the ocean’s only herbivorous mammal may avoid extinction. For example, Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates plans to restore an additional 12,000 hectares of mangroves, coral reefs and seagrass meadows in addition to the 7,500 hectares already restored.

A not so rare snake

Small female Antiguan racer snake
Also Phis antiguae, once the world’s rarest snake, has made an incredible comeback. Photo: Wikimedia/Antiguan Racer

Animals and plants endemic to islands and archipelagos are particularly vulnerable to extinction, such as the giant wingless moas of New Zealand or the mullets of Mauritius and Reunion. But the islands are also a fertile ground for ecological restoration of endangered species.

Alsophis antiguae is a harmless snake endemic to the two island nations of Antigua and Barbuda. Introduced in the 1890s to control rats, non-native mongooses ate these snakes and their prey, lizards, to such an extent that by 1995 only about 50 antiguas remained on one offshore island.

Since then, restoration efforts have cleared several islands of invasive predators, returning their ecosystems to a natural state, and antiguae now has more than 1,100 individuals in four areas. Bird colonies on the islands also experienced a dramatic recovery thanks to predator removal.

Pains without traps

A bird in the tall grass
The iconic bittern is camouflaged in wetlands. Image: Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)

In the UK, restoration of natural processes in degraded wetlands and former industrial sites has brought the iconic waterfowl back to life, as well as creating opportunities for human recreation and leisure in nearby urban centres.

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