28 species saved from extinction since 1993 thanks to conservation action

Conservation efforts have saved at least 28 bird and mammal species from becoming extinct since the year 1993, a study has concluded.

Researchers from the UK analysed 73 of the world's most threatened species and predicted how many would have gone extinct were it not for conservation efforts.

Among those species pulled back from the brink are the Puerto Rican parrot, Mongolian wild horse, Iberian Lynx and the Black Stilt — a New Zealand wading bird.

These animals have been threatened by such factors as human-driven destruction of their habitats, invasive predators, disease, hunting and climate change.

Successful conservation strategies in these cases included controlling invasive species, introduction of protected sites and the efforts of zoos and collections.

'It is encouraging that some of the species we studied have recovered very well,' said paper author and biodiversity expert Rike Bolam of Newcastle University.

'Our analyses therefore provide a strikingly positive message that conservation has substantially reduced extinction rates for birds and mammals,' she added.

'While extinctions have also occurred over the same time period, our work shows that it is possible to prevent extinctions.' 

In their study, Dr Bolam and colleagues compiled observations from 137 experts on 73 of the world's most at-risk species (48 birds and 25 mammals), as identified by the so-called 'Red List' of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Each of the species had population totals that had fallen below 250 at any point since 1993, faced ongoing threats and had been targeted for conservation.

They collected such data as each species' population sizes and trends, the threats they face and the actions that have been taken to protect them.

From this information, they set about to calculate the likelihood that each species would have gone extinct if conservationists had not intervened. 

The researchers determined that — without conservation efforts — the rate of extinction would have been around 3–4 times higher, with an estimated 21–32 bird and 7–16 mammals species have been saved from vanishing since 1993.

The ranges in these values, the researchers explained, represent the inherent uncertainty in trying to predict the outcomes of such hypothetical circumstances.  

Of the conserved animals, 21 bird species benefited from invasive species control, 20 species from the efforts of zoos and collections, and 19 species from the introduction of site-based protections.

Meanwhile, 14 mammal species were saved with the help of protective legislation and nine from a combination of conservation and re-wilding efforts by zoos and collections, the researchers explained.

'This is a glimmer of hope — that if we take action we can prevent the irreversible loss of the last individuals of a species,' said paper author and Newcastle University biologist Phil McGowan, who leads the IUCN's Species Survival Commission.

However, he added, 'we mustn't forget that in the same period, 15 bird and mammal species went extinct or are strongly suspected to have gone extinct.'

In some cases, conservation efforts simply are not enough, the team noted. For example, the Gulf of California's Vaquita, or 'Phocoena sinus', is a porpoise species whose numbers continue to fall despite efforts to minimise the damage of fishing.  

'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,' Professor McGowan added.

'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.'

Some of the species saved now only exist in captivity — although there is always the hope that they might be re-introduced into the wild in the future.

Case in point: Mongolian wild horse — also known as 'Przewalski's horse' and 'Equus ferus' — went extinct in the wild in the sixties, but was restored by a rewilding programme which began in the nineties.

The species first new wild foal was then born in 1996 — and the Mongolian steps today plays host to a population of 760 of the horses.