Preventing Extinctions, It Works

New research finds that since 1993, conservation actions have had a clear impact, preventing extinctions of birds and mammals on a global scale.

Over the past two decades, researchers found that the extinction of up to 48 species of bird and mammal species have been prevented as a direct result of conservation interventions. The researchers that published these findings in the journal Conservation Letters attribute this achievement, in large part, to the formation of the United Nations’ (UN) Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1993 and the global effort to address threats to biodiversity loss. Preventing extinctions, it works.

Considering population sizes, trends, threats, and conservation activities, the paper’s authors reduced an initial list of 17,046 bird and animal species to 81 listed as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and calculated their potential rates of extinction in the absence of conservation work. Since 1993, they found that conservation efforts prevented the extinction of 21–32 bird and 7–16 mammal species and that more than half of these conservation wins have occurred over the past decade. At the same time, 10 species of birds and five species of mammals were driven to extinction, suggesting that without conservation efforts the rate of extinction since 1993 would have been two to four times greater.

Birds, in particular, benefitted from invasive species removals, habitat protection, and conservation efforts conducted by zoos and captive holding. Many of these stories have become iconic conservation success stories, including the recovery of California Condor and the Puerto Rican Amazon, a parrot whose population existed at the incredibly fragile number of 13 wild specimens in 1975. 

This paper comes at a key moment in time, as the success of conservation efforts on a global scale are facing concerns and scrutiny over failures to drive lasting change. Just this month, two leading reports have sounded the alarm over the accelerated rate of biodiversity loss. The World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) biennial Living Planet Report cites a 68% average drop in global animal populations since 1970, while the UN released a report showing the global failure to achieve the CBD’s Aichi Biodiversity Targets over the past decade. These devastating reports, clearly show that there is much more work to be done in the realm of conservation, but also reveal the small but certain “glimmers of hope,” as Dr. Phil McGowan of Newcastle University, co-author of the Conservation Letters report, called the study.

Critically Endangered species like the Laysan Duck, remain on the verge of extinction but conservation can bring them back from the brink. Credit: Wes Jolley

In a fight that often feels like that of David’s against Goliath, Dr. McGowan summarizes the findings of his research and the WWF’s report beautifully:

We usually hear bad stories about the biodiversity crisis and there is no doubt that we are facing an unprecedented loss in biodiversity through human activity. [Although,] the loss of entire species can be stopped if there is sufficient will to do so. This is a call to action: showing the scale of the issue and what we can achieve if we act now to support conservation and prevent extinction.” 

Despite these worrying reports, the bright spots, are there and provide reasons to be hopeful, including findings that reveal invasive species management and removal is one of the few areas where we are making incredible conservation gains. Mounting evidence shows that conservation work can (and will) change our current trajectory!

Featured photo: The Critically Endangered Polynesian Ground-dove had a global population of 250 individuals, but my removing invasive species their secure habitat has more than doubled. Credit: Marie-Helene Burle/Island Conservation
Source: The Guardian

About Josh Sellers

Josh received his BA in History from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Having been lucky enough to live on the California coast his entire life, Josh has developed a deep sense of appreciation for the environment. This passion for the environment has manifested in Josh’s participation in various environmental campaigns, an interest in environmental history – studying the relationship between peoples and their surrounding environment(s) – and past employment with the United States House of Representatives, where he was afforded the opportunity to see how government policy impacts conservation efforts. In his spare time, Josh enjoys surfing, backpacking, and reading anything related to recent history, and fantasy novels. He is excited to be working with Island Conservation and help support the amazing work the organization does.

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