Tigers, pandas and rhinos on road to recovery in a golden year for wildlife

With its political shocks, tragic events and the deaths of music and film icons, 2016 is a year to forget for many. But there was some good news for the world’s wildlife.

Yesterday, the environmental charity WWF declared it a “momentous year for conservation”. Top of its list of conservation success stories was the first recorded increase in wild tigers. The number was revised upwards to 3,890 in April, from 3,200 in 2010. A century ago there were 100,000.

There was also good news for giant pandas, which were declared to be no longer officially endangered and now merely “vulnerable” after decades of conservation work, largely by China. Numbers in the wild have risen by nearly 17 per cent in the past decade to about 2,000.

Despite the recovery, the panda remains the official symbol of WWF.

Rhinos also bounced back, but only in Nepal. While Africa struggles to stem record-breaking rhino poaching, Nepal marked two years since its last rhino was poached.

The population of greater one-horned rhinos stands at 645 after an aggressive anti-poaching drive supported by a full battalion of the Nepalese army.

April: The number of wild tigers was revised to 3,890, the first recorded increase in the population. In 2010 there were estimated to be 3,200. The rise is partly due to better protection in India, Russia, Nepal and Bhutan but also the result of more accurate surveys

The pangolin, or scaly anteater, gained greater protection from hunters in September under a global agreement by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species banning commercial trade in its body parts.

In November the British government promised an additional £13 million to tackle the illegal wildlife trade.

For the oceans, the year’s greatest conservation success was the creation of the world’s largest marine protected area in the Antarctic after Russia ended years of opposition to the proposal.

Fishing has been banned, with minor exceptions, in 1.5 million square kilometres of the Ross Sea, named after James Ross, the 19th-century British explorer.

September: A ban on commercial trade in body parts of the pangolin, the world’s most trafficked mammal. More than a million have been snatched in the past decade and their meat is a delicacy in China and Vietnam

The longest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere had a reprieve from seismic surveying after officials in Belize agreed to suspend oil exploration.

The Doñana wetlands, a world heritage site in southern Spain, gained greater protection this month when the Spanish government announced a ban on dredging of the Guadalquivir river.

On climate change, Britain continued to make progress even as other countries, notably the US with its choice of Donald Trump as the country’s next president, appeared to waver. Half of Britain’s electricity was generated from low-carbon sources for the first time over the summer.

On August 7, high winds in Scotland meant that wind turbines produced enough to power the equivalent of all of the electricity required north of the border. The UK last month joined more than 100 other countries by ratifying the Paris agreement on climate change.

October: The world’s largest marine protected area was created in the Antarctic in a landmark deal involving 24 countries including the UK. Almost all fishing has been banned in 1.55 million km² of the Ross Sea in the Southern Ocean. It will protect wildlife, including Adélie and emperor penguins.

Glyn Davies, acting chief executive of WWF-UK, said that some great victories had been won this year but there was still “an uphill battle ahead”.

He said: “Global wildlife populations are likely to decline by 67 per cent from 1970 levels by the end of this decade. Without greater efforts we will face a global mass extinction of wildlife for the first time since the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

“The good news is that we know we can make a difference. 2016 has celebrated many landmark successes which will bolster global efforts to protect the natural world.”

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