There’s no sugarcoating it: the future appears grim for the animals of the world. The US is headed by a man with trigger-happy elephant hunters for sons, and it seems like every new policy coming out of the administration is designed to squash one species or another out of pure spite and hatred for the natural world.

But there’s an opposite side to this coin, and not is all as it appears: a growing resistance, scores of good folks recognizing what’s at stake and doubling down on their efforts to conserve the planet’s animals. Every day they remind us that it’s not too late to protect what matters most, which is why we are celebrating the year’s wildlife successes. Wildlife conservation works, even when the system doesn’t, and these stories are proof that if we keep fighting, we’ll keep winning.

1. Instagram changes app to educate on animal abuse.

Photo: libargutxi

Instagram’s success lies in its ability to inspire: users see someone post a thing that they want to do, they go do it, they post it, the cycle continues. Unfortunately, wild animals like tigers, dolphins, and sloths have been the victims of this cycle, cruelly forced to pose for selfies with tourists that want to post on Instagram. The Facebook-owned company has ended the year with the announcement that hashtags with an animal and selfie, like #monkeyselfie, will trigger a warning alerting their users that what they are witnessing is animal cruelty. Lack of education on the topic is a huge reason behind its prevalence, and this will hopefully curb the tide of inhumane wildlife tourism.

2. Puppy mills banned in California.

Dogs may be domesticated, but the terrible conditions in which they’re bred is bad for everyone. Factory farms of future pets are no longer getting the go-ahead in California, a state which ranks as the world’s 5th largest GDP. Such an economically important and populated place making this decision will certainly kick off the trend of banning the cruel practice of puppy milling.

3. The Mad Dog Initiative saves lemurs in Madagascar.

I’m biased on this one because I’m a volunteer of theirs, but the work that The Mad Dog Initiative is doing to help the struggling endemic species of Madagascar is a model worth duplicating around the world. They deploy veterinary teams to spay and neuter feral dogs, while running population counts of nearby wildlife, and working with locals to enable conservation leadership. This holistic approach is keeping the impact of dogs on wildlife at bay, and can build easily and sustainably.

4. Saiga Antelope represents success of wildlife conservation efforts.

The Saiga Antelope is a perfect example of how concerted focus on raising species population numbers can result in exactly that. This is why the creature was honored at the Conservation Optimism Summit in London: its success reflects the relentless efforts of conservationists who twice brought the saiga antelope back from the brink of no return, making it clear that hope is plentiful for other species needing support.

5. 2nd breeding population of Indochinese Tigers discovered.

Photo: Lotse

It’s a scary thing when only one breeding population of a species exists: it means numbers are low and with it decreased genetic variation (which is bad news for sustainable survivability). Fortunately for the Indochinese Tiger, a tiger subspecies found in Thailand, a second breeding group of them was discovered, reflecting a rebound in population that can be credited to increased anti-poaching efforts.

6. Belize Barrier Reef is promised protection.

Last year the world’s second largest barrier reef became the target of offshore oil drilling, but thanks to the quick action of the people of Belize and Oceana, the government agreed to put a moratorium on offshore drilling in a bipartisan move that protects the fragile reef. A big victory for the ocean, for Belize, and for anyone needing proof that the people united can turn the hand of their government towards conservation.

7. The orange-breasted falcon is coming back from extinction.

Another winning story coming out of Belize can be found in the sky. The endangered orange-breasted falcon has been declining for some time, for no apparent reasons. For ten years, chicks have been hatched in captivity in the US, then brought back to Belize for release. This precarious, involved process takes tremendous effort, and that effort is proving fruitful, as their numbers are picking back up.

8. New species of orangutan identified.

Photo: Tim Laman

These days, undiscovered mammals are rarely brought to the light, so it’s extra exciting to have a new great ape announced. The Tapanuli orangutan lives in North Sumatra and numbers only in the 800s. Though as endangered as its cousin, the discovery of this new species bolsters the mission of conservationists and inspires those invested in the perpetuation of wildlife to keep working at it.

9. Colombia commits to conservation.

With peace between people comes peace in other aspects of the world, and Colombia is embodying that philosophy wholeheartedly with a concerted effort to preserve the country’s natural heritage. This is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet with high mountains, rugged coastline, dense jungle, and urban epicenters hosting life in all its forms. Heritage Colombia was created to increase protected areas, and to keep them safe so they can flourish.

10. Gillnets banned to save vaquita dolphin.

Photo: NOAA

The cartoonish vaquita dolphin became the internet’s sweetheart after going viral online for being freaking adorable, a realization that came paired with the fact that the species is very close to being no more. Taking quick action, the Mexican government banned gillnet fishing which sweeps up the dolphins when aiming for fish. Though it’s believed only 30 vaquitas remain, the willingness of the powers that be to step in gives optimism.

11. Grizzly hunting banned in British Columbia

Photo: skeeze

The year is ending with a bang — or rather, the silencing of bangs, thanks to a landmark decision by the Canadian province of British Columbia to ban grizzly-bear hunting in all its forms. At first the ruling only prohibited killing the creatures for sport, but after a month, meat hunting became banned as well. This is great news for the apex predator that has been the victim of senseless slaughter for centuries.