by Kirsten Howard
In September 2016, after almost 50 years of managed breeding and conservation efforts, the giant panda was upgraded from "endangered" to "vulnerable" on the IUCN red list. Now, there are between 1800 and 2050 giant pandas in the world, and the number is increasing.
It’s not the first time a species has been dragged back from the brink. Here are eight other animals that have made a comeback—with help from conservation laws and dedicated scientists.
1. American Alligator
American alligators, the largest reptile in the U.S., are found across in the Southeast in wetlands, rivers, and even golf courses. But once upon a time, the alligator was on the verge of extinction, thanks to the popularity of its skin as material for shoes, jackets, and bags.
In 1967, the alligator was listed as "endangered" under the Endangered Species Preservation Act (the precursor to the Endangered Species Act of 1973). Twenty years later, their status was upgraded to "threatened" [PDF], which remains current. Today, about 5 million alligators roam the U.S. from Texas to Florida to North Carolina.
2. Southern White Rhino
White rhinoceroses are the second largest land mammal (after elephants) and are classified into northern and southern subspecies. Sadly, there are only two northern white rhinos left alive, following intensive poaching for their horns. But southern white rhinos are faring better.
Europeans settlers and big game hunters nearly wiped out the southern white rhino populations in the late 19th century. Conservationists then found a group of fewer than 100 animals in South Africa and vigorously protected them, and southern white rhinos populations have rebounded. The World Wildlife Fund estimates there are between 19,600 and 21,000 individuals now living in South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Kenya, and the IUCN Red List classifies them as "near-threatened."
3. Grizzly Bear
The grizzly bear was once on the verge of disappearing from the lower 48 states thanks to habitat loss. By 1975, when grizzlies were protected under the Endangered Species Act, only 136 of the bears roamed Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Now, there are around 1850 grizzlies across six ecosystems in the upper Rockies and Pacific Northwest. A recent five-year study by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service concluded that, while grizzlies continue to recover, they should remain listed as "threatened" [PDF].
4. Peregrine Falcon
The fastest birds on the planet, peregrine falcons couldn't outfly the effects of DDT. The widely used pesticide made their eggs' shells to thin for nestlings to survive. Peregrine populations plummeted by the 1960s, and the falcon was first listed as "endangered" in 1970. Conservation campaigns against the pesticides, habitat loss, and other threats brought the birds back from the brink of extinction. The recovery led to their delisting from the Endangered Species List in 1999 [PDF].
5. Channel Island Foxes
The island fox, which is endemic to California's Channel Islands, suffered a 90 percent population decrease in the 1990s. Distemper outbreaks and predation by birds and feral pigs reduced the foxes on five of the six Channel Islands from 6000 to fewer than 1500 by 2002. Thanks to captive breeding and reintroduction efforts, the fox population is increasing and numbers about 4000 mature individuals today. In 2016, three subspecies—the San Miguel, Santa Rosa, and Santa Cruz island foxes—were removed from the Endangered Species List, and the Santa Catalina island fox was upgraded from "endangered" to "threatened" [PDF].
6. Gray Whale
Centuries of whaling reduced the populations of gray whales to just a fraction of their historical numbers and Pacific Ocean habitat range. Beginning in the 1930s, Pacific Rim countries imposed measures to conserve the remaining gray whales, and in the early 1970s, the U.S. government protected them under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The long-migrating cetaceans in the Eastern North Pacific and Arctic seas recovered sufficiently to be removed from the Endangered Species List in 1994, but a population in the Western North Pacific remains endangered.
7. Lesser Long-Nosed Bat
This petite, cinnamon-colored bat is adapted to life in the desert. They roost in the caves and old mines scattered across southern Arizona and New Mexico, and sip nectar from saguaro cactus and agave blossoms. Habitat fragmentation and the destruction of their roosting sites reduced their numbers and prompted Congress to list them as "endangered" in 1988 [PDF]. Because populations do inhabit more than 40 percent of Mexico, and lesser long-nosed bats in the U.S. have been able to recover from the season-to-season fluctuations in their numbers, they were delisted in 2018.
8. Wood Stork
A large American wading bird, the wood stork’s population dropped by 90 percent between the 1930s and 1980s due to commercial development and water drainage in South Florida. The storks landed on the endangered species list in 1984. Thanks to cooperation between governments and conservation groups in restoring wetlands in the southern U.S., the wood stork population is back up around 16,000 breeding adults, and its status was upgraded to "threatened" in 2014.