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SOS Rhino : In the News : Endangered species are making a comeback

Endangered species are making a comeback

  September 29 2004 at 09:06AM

Bangkok - Amid nightmare stories of hundreds of disappearing species, icons of the wildlife world including the giant panda and bald eagle have clawed their way back from the brink of extinction.

Championed by conservationists and immortalised as symbols of their movement, some of the world's most recognisable species have proved how well-funded and efficient programmes can reverse decades of decline.

Numbers of China's giant panda, the African elephant, the Asian rhino and the grizzly bear, all threatened with extinction in the last century, have increased thanks to intensified anti-poaching efforts and habitat preservation.

While 820 animal and plant species have been forced into extinction by humans during the past 500 years, according to the World Conservation Union (IUCN), activists say the smattering of success stories among the pin-ups of the animal kingdom has highlighted the way forward.

'Some of the greatest successes have been in the United States'

Some of those animals will be discussed at a meeting of 166 countries at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) starting here this week.

Fiercely contested proposals will be debated, notably surrounding the ivory trade, amid proposals to ease restrictions on international trade for some creatures because of the recovery in their numbers.

Some of the greatest successes have been in the United States which has some of the world's strongest and most effective wildlife conservation law. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 criminalises the capture, killing or trade of protected animals.

Of about 1 500 species in the US listed as endangered, the authorities report more than 500 are now stable or improving.

"It's really more an awareness on the part of the general public," Kevin Adams, chief of law enforcement at the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), said.

'There is much greater awareness out there'

"There is much greater awareness out there of these animals and acceptance of their place in the ecosystem."

Successful campaigns include those for the prized American buffalo. Tens of millions roamed the prairies as recently as the mid-19th century but were hunted to the edge of existence.

A protection campaign saved the species and now enough bison roam American prairies and ranches to accommodate a thriving meat and products industry.

The Peregrine falcon was taken off the nation's endangered list in 1999 and the gray wolf, whose controversial reintroduction programmes inflamed passions in several US states has also revived.

Grizzly bear populations have doubled since the early 1980s, to more than 1 000.

But America's most iconic success story has been that of the bald eagle, adopted as the country's national symbol in 1782, when about 100 000 were nesting in the continental US.

Their numbers plummeted, mainly through hunting and the effects of the toxic pesticide DDT, to just 417 nesting pairs by 1963. Today the figure is estimated at 7 600.

Elsewhere, the one-horned Asian rhinoceros - the largest on the continent - was hunted for its prized horn to just 60 in Nepal fewer than 50 years ago.

The world's rhino population has decreased 90 percent since 1970, but aggressive anti-poaching and land protection measures in Nepal has seen numbers increase to 450, a substantial proportion of the total of 2 000 in the region.

Only 250 Siberian tigers were alive in Russia's far east as recently as 1993 but numbers have now nearly doubled, owing to strict anti-poaching and public awareness campaigns.

"They have to remain vigilant to make sure they don't slide back but at least for now these animals have beaten the odds," said Steven Galster, Asia director for conservation group WildAid.

In June, a survey of the giant panda population in China showed they were clawing their way back from near extinction, documenting at least 1 590 of the creatures in the wild - a sharp rise from the 1 110 reported in 1988.

Robert Mather, representative for conservationist group World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in Thailand, says the recovery of many animal icons proves success is possible with sufficient commitment.

"In most cases it's just removing the pressures that were responsible for their decline in the first place," he said, referring to poaching and habitat loss. "When you allow nature to recover, it will recover." - Sapa-AFP

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