2016 was not all bad: In fact there were some major wins for the wild animals all across the world, ranging from community action to major legislative changes. Hopefully these successes cement the foundation upon which the salvation of the natural world can continue to grow.
Giant Panda off the endangered species list.
Considering the fact that humans have wiped out the number of animal species by 60% in only four decades, it’s a major success that any animal would leave the endangered species *not* by way of extinction. The giant panda being one of these species is even more amazing, considering their slow ability to adapt. This is a great example of how aggressive conservation can lead to a species rebounding in numbers, and why protecting wild animals is necessary for continued biodiversity on our shared planet.
The Belize Barrier Reef was saved.
For a few terrifying days, the Government of Belize was doing seismic oil testing along the UNESCO Heritage site of the Belize Barrier Reef, the second largest coral reef system on the planet. Fortunately, the citizens of Belize rose up and protested this pre-emptive oil drilling action, effectively stopping it. In doing so they saved the ecosystem and the lives of all the marine creatures that call the reef home (not to mention the 190,000 Belizeans who rely on the beautiful area for work). Dolphins, manatees, sharks, crocodiles, and hundreds of species of fish and invertebrate species were spared.
Tiger numbers are growing.
Tigers were hunted so close to the brink of extinction that it was truly believed they would never recover. However, the World Wildlife Fund reported that this was the first time in over a century that wild tiger numbers increased, thanks to conservation efforts in India, Nepal, and Russia. If those successful efforts were replicated in other countries where tigers continue to decline in numbers, such as Indonesia where habitat destruction is rampant, it’s no doubt that the big cats would see a resurgence of even greater proportions.
The US designates bison as national mammal.
The United States has never had a national mammal before, but as of 2016 the iconic bison earned its spot as an icon of America with the passing of the National Bison Legacy Act. Bison (also called buffalo) represent the first successful attempt at wildlife conservation after the species, once bountiful in this land, was quickly hunted into the dozens as a result of manifest destiny. They represent not only the resilience that Americans yearn to have, but serve as a warning of the dangers that come with unchecked colonization.
California voters keep a ban on plastic bags.
Plastic bags, which take decades to degrade, are a significant cause of death for marine animals, as they look like edible jellyfish. California voters said yes on Proposition 67, reaffirming their decision to outlaw the pesky plastic bags. Cities and counties like San Francisco had previously done away with plastic bags, but this legislation ensures that the entire state will remain a leader in protecting the environment from superfluous use of plastic products.
Bolivia saves 6000 macaws.
Feathers are an important part of indigenous ceremonial wear, which is why the decision for Bolivia’s indigenous groups to switch from critically endangered blue-throated macaw feathers to identical but fake feathers is such a landmark move. Through education and collaborative conservation with indigenous groups, over 6,000 birds were spared untimely deaths to have their feathers harvested since 2010.
President Obama legislates against wildlife trafficking.
The president signed into law H.R. 2494, the Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act of 2016, which “provides tools to help the U.S. lead efforts to combat the global poaching crisis and work with partner nations to protect elephants, rhinos, and members of other endangered and threatened species from being victimized by the international trafficking trade.” By taking a such a huge marketplace out of the equation, this law helps reduce the demand for poached creatures.
Another success from the Obama administration this year was the establishment of the world’s largest marine reserve, maintaining the habitats of many marine species for generations to come. Habitat destruction is one of the primary reasons species experience decline, so by ensuring the survival of the ecosystem, President Obama has supported the chances for all the animals that call Hawaii home.
Tasmanian devils develop resistance to devastating infectious cancer.
As an island, Tasmania is home to some of the most unique, endemic species on the planet. This includes the now extinct Tasmanian Tiger, or thylacine, which continues to capture the imagination of naturalists worldwide. The Tasmanian Devil was starting to head the tiger’s direction after being plagued by an infectious cancer. But 2016 couldn’t kill everybody we love, for the devil, as per its namesake, is fighting back, and they are declining more slowly as a result of this disease.
The heavily-armored pangolin is the world’s most trafficked animal, probably because it is smaller and less-recognizable than other illegally-traded species, like tigers and elephants. Most people can’t picture a pangolin, and now, thanks to this international agreement to protect the species from being trafficked, hopefully no one will see one in person without visiting their native habitat.
Ecuador enlarges Galapagos marine sanctuary.
The world’s largest biomass of sharks is just off the Galapagos Islands (where Charles Darwin performed the research for his theory of natural selection) and this year Ecuador created a 15,000 square mile marine reserve to ensure that it stays a place for these creatures to call home. 97% of the landmass in the Galapagos is already protected, so it was time to protect the surrounding waters as well. Hopefully the efforts undertaken by the US and Ecuador to protect marine ecosystems will become a trend next year.
The Singapore Alliance on Sustainable Palm Oil launches.
Palm oil is one of those innocuous-sounding products that is not-so-secretly devastating wildlife and their habitats. Harvesting palm oil is an inefficient process that brutalizes the ecosystems from which it’s taken, which is home to orangutans, tigers, and other creatures that are dying at alarming rates. The Singapore Alliance on Sustainable Palm Oil is a refreshing approach that takes a market approach for advocating against palm oil products that partake in anti-environmental harvesting, an approach that is needed now more than ever.
After pressure from the public, Seaworld has announced they will end orca breeding, as well as stop putting on the shows which many deem cruel. Collecting an orca from the wild has been illegal for quite some time, and less than 30 exist in captivity, but this will ensure the intelligent creatures will remain in the wild with their dignity intact. Hopefully Seaworld will be able to put their newfound time towards continued conservation efforts.
For 3 years in a row a wolf affectionately called OR-7 has fathered puppies in Oregon, leading to a current population of at least 110 wolves in the state. The species were heavily hunted back in the day, although at least one wolf was illegally killed in Oregon this year. However, it’s looking like the population is doing so well that even an errant hunter can’t curb the wolf’s rightful place in the wild.
This summer was a relief for the endangered fin whale, because Iceland decided not to hunt them for Japanese consumers. Note that this is not a permanent choice, but any reprieve the creatures can get is a start, especially since it was motivated by lack of demand for the fin’s meat. It’s possible that this will be the beginning of a continued downward trend for interest in whale meat.
Malawi is a small country just south of Tanzania, but it isn’t afraid to fight back against the scourge of poaching that plagues the big, beautiful beasts of the African continent. Poachers, rhino horn dealers, and the like face a 30-year prison sentence if convicted of wildlife-related crimes, setting a powerful deterrent against victimizing rapidly depleting populations of some of the most iconic animals on the planet.