Climate change, deforestation, sea level rise and mass extinction; the news often feels pretty grim when it comes to the environment. But our planet is also incredibly resilient, and a few simple steps can go a long way toward protecting endangered species. At one point or another, these animals verged on extinction—and then came roaring back.
1. Wood storks
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A few decades ago, the wood stork was on the verge of extinction. Inland waters have been diverted from the Everglades as a result of development. Fish shops have declined sharply, as have wood stork numbers, said Simone Picardi, an assistant professor of ecology at Utah State University.
These massive birds feed by feel, meaning they drop their beaks into the water and wade until they find fish. Once they do, their beaks close, an instinctive response that is among the fastest in the animal kingdom. But when there aren’t enough fish, they have trouble finding food. “Wood storks are not efficient foragers. They’re a Goldilocks bird, which means that when conditions aren’t right, they have trouble feeding,” says Picardi.
In the 1970s, unable to find food in the Everglades, wood storks expanded north and began nesting and foraging in the Carolinas. This led to an increase in population. And more importantly, a a massive Everglades restoration project in 2000 helped restore natural water flow so wood storks could once again hunt effectively in Florida waters. In 2014, the birds were downgraded from threatened to endangered as their numbers increased globally.
2. Humpback whales
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By the 1980s, the humpback whale population had dwindled to about 1,200 remaining in the world’s oceans. But then a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1985 enabled the humpback whale population to recover. While whales still face the threat of entanglement in fishing gear, as well as the threat of boat strikes, their numbers have increased globally, reaching around 135,000. They are no longer endangered and healthy humpback populations can be found worldwide.
3. Green sea turtles
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At about 300 pounds, green sea turtle is the largest hard-shelled sea turtle. It is an imposing species that, unlike other sea turtles, is primarily vegetarian. But in the 1990s, only a handful of green sea turtles could be found in the wild. Their numbers had dwindled to about 50 as a result of being trapped fishing trawls as well as habitat destruction. But after several decades of protection under the Endangered Species Act, green sea turtles have recovered in numbers to about 13,000 seen nesting in the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, which was established for their protection in 1989.
4. Louisiana Black Bear
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According to Joseph Clark, an ecologist at the Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, the Louisiana black bear population has rebounded in recent decades as a result of wetland restoration projects in Louisiana that have turned farmland back into bear habitat. “The oak saplings planted through the program provide cover for the bears and allow them to move between habitats,” he says.
This is important because bears are a “density-dependent species,” meaning they can only tolerate a certain number of animals in their territory. When they don’t have enough space, they end up destroying their own species in an attempt to compete for food and mates. But the Louisiana black bear is also amazingly adaptable. Above all, they have managed to thrive in an ever-changing habitat. They have also learned to survive the wet season by hibernating and raising their young high in trees until the floods recede.
5. American Alligator
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In the 1950s, the American alligator was almost hunted to extinction so that its skin could be made into shoes and bags. In 1967, it was included in the list of endangered species. But thanks to a team effort by state and federal agencies, as well as conservation groups, it made quite a comeback: Since then, North America’s largest reptile is no longer endangered, with approximately 5 million alligators common in the southeastern United States.
It can feel overwhelming to think that almost all of the world’s species are threatened by global climate change, hunting or habitat destruction. But it’s good to know that we can make a difference by helping these same species recover – simple steps to restore habitat and protect animals combined with the resilience of these amazing species i can make a difference That’s why it’s so important that conservationists and others continue to fight to protect animals that need us now more than ever.