The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates that the current extinction rate for species on our planet is more than 1,000 times the rate it would be naturally, thanks to human factors. Climate change is implicated in reductions to water availability in ecosystems and ice in the Arctic. These days you only have to turn on the television to have a front row seat for the environmental disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. Everywhere you look, the news about the state of nature seems gloomy.
Working to make positive change in protecting rare species and their habitats is not an easy task. It takes the efforts of trained experts, working collaboratively, often on limited funds and against a ticking clock, to ensure the survival of a portion of our planet’s biodiversity. It requires the support of people and governments who believe in the value of such work. And it relies on the fundamental belief that such actions can make a difference. In short: it takes hope.
On May 21, Endangered Species Day, the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research will celebrate by launching its new initiative, “10 Reasons for Hope.” This effort draws attention to some of the successes we have had as a means by which to inspire us all to continue to fight the good fight. Our reasons for hope highlight projects making a difference in both wild and captive management of species at risk.
Several projects have contributed to increasing wild population numbers via reintroductions or translocations. The Institute has long been involved with the efforts to turn around the decline in California condor numbers; we have seen the wild population increase from 22 to 180 birds in recent years. In Hawaii, more than 200 puaiohi have been released into native forests. Close to home in Southern California, the numbers of endangered kangaroo rats have increased through translocations into good habitat. Without the work of our staff and partners, and the support of governments and communities, these species would have continued on their trajectory toward extinction. Now, we have witnessed the reversal of those trends.
There have also been significant achievements in managing captive populations. We have developed a screening lab for the chytrid fungus, which has devastated wild populations of amphibians the world over. By testing samples in captive populations, we can ensure their survival, and wild populations can be supplemented with animals from breeding programs. We helped launch Genome 10k, an effort to sequence the genomes of vertebrate species that will allow for better treatment of zoonotic diseases in both wild and captive animals. And the number of giant pandas in zoos and breeding centers worldwide should reach 300 this summer, ensuring a self-sustaining captive population.
Here’s something we can all be a part of: connecting our children to nature. There is an international movement to get kids out of the house and onto the trails, beaches, and parks in their area. Fostering this connection will ensure a future generation of environmental stewards, people who care enough to support conservation objectives. We can all participate by introducing our children, or other young relatives or friends, to the wilds in your own backyard.
The news of the world can be depressing, and the constant barrage of pleas for assistance or action on behalf of the world’s declining species and habitats can feel overwhelming. But take heart. In some places, and in big and small ways, efforts are making a difference. Our reasons for hope offer clear examples of how the battle can be won and how it is being won in many different ways. We invite you to allow a little hope to seep into the gloom and doom by visiting the 10 Reasons for Hope page. The future of biodiversity on the planet depends upon those who allow that spirit to guide them to action on behalf of us all.
Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research.
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