In the face of climate change and dwindling species, these feel-good stories give us hope.
They’re back, baby!
Cheers to the passionate people who have protected animal habitats stood up for conservation policies, studied endangered species, or helped us back off some wild spaces so flora and fauna could get back to business. It’s too easy to get lost in despair in a world that feels like it’s burning down. But travelers, take heart. Conscientious ecotourism that funds conservation and mindfully steers clear of vulnerable habitats does make a difference.
Top Picks for You
Baby Dragon Salamanders
WHERE: Postojna, Slovenia
Just ask any Slovenian: dragons do exist. Or at least baby ones. Rare and vulnerable aquatic salamanders called olms—more affectionately known as baby dragons—were once seen as proof of the legendary dragons that lived in the region’s famed caves.
Postojna, Europe’s most-visited tourist cave, had a closely kept secret in their laboratory cave for half of 2022. By October, the science team could finally share that they not only had an unexpected and rare brood of baby dragons but shattered other birth rates with a survival rate of 74 percent. Scientists believe only two in 500 survive to juvenile age in the wild. Hatching baby olms is such a rare event that the team had to rely on common sense and tender care. Scientists hope to better understand their long lives, regeneration, and limited need to eat.
WHERE: Kent, England
This little girl redefined what it means to be a millennial. For the first time in over 6,000 years, a wild European bison (or wisent) was born in England. The species was hunted to near extinction by World War I, surviving only in zoos. The Kent team, like those around the continent, are reintroducing these woodland bison as “ecosystem engineers” that benefit everything in their habit. But bison can hide pregnancies to protect them from predators, and one of the introduced females was carrying a surprise. The birth of the female calf in September was a cherry on top of the re-emerging bison success.
WHERE: Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Coral is popping up everywhere, and even out of season. For the first time, scientists in Australia have spawned coral in captivity during the off-season, replicating the summer moon, tides, and temperatures ideal for creation in a laboratory to then plant on the reefs. Typically, coral only spawns twice between October and December, and this winter success creates hope that they can regenerate and restore the Great Barrier Reef faster. The UNESCO heritage-listed reef is also battling back without lab support. Northern and central stretches of the 1429-mile-long reef showed the largest coral cover in the last 36 years.
WHERE: New Zealand
The “owl parrot” is a New Zealand wonder: a flightless bird with a distinct owl face and a booming voice. The largest parrot species in the world sadly almost disappeared in the 1990s. But in July of 2022, the endangered kākāpō hit its highest population level in nearly fifty years. Knowledge about habitat selection and genome mapping helped scientists support these birds with the second-highest breeding season on record, hatching 60 chicks. The adored “moss chicken” has a nation keen to protect it.
Greenback Cutthroat Trout
WHERE: Colorado, United States
Colorado’s state trout are back making babies in their native rivers. In September, scientists announced that the species, once considered utterly extinct in the 1930s, was not only breeding but doing so on its own.
It’s been a dramatic turn for the greenback, thought to be back in the 1950s, only for scientists to determine the fish were a similar subspecies, but not the greenback cutthroats. But in 2012, naturalists found the world’s only purebred greenback trout hover in Bear Creek. Aquatic biologists carefully managed this discovery, and after years in the hatchery and reintroduction to the rivers, these trout are holding their own.
WHERE: Florida and Louisiana, United States
Turtles are taking back the beaches. Southwest Florida just saw its best turtle nesting season on record in 2022. Loggerhead, green, and leatherback turtles shattered the records, leaving the volunteers counting the nests “astonished” and “ecstatic.”
Not to be outdone, the world’s smallest and most endangered sea turtle hatched in Louisiana for the first time in 75 years. The Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle showed up in force on the state’s uninhabited barrier islands, and biologists credit the efforts to restore the islands for wildlife. More than fifty hatchlings have been crawling on the beaches since May 2022.
WHERE: Atacama, Chile
The stony terrain of this high-Andean plateau becomes a wonderfully weird carpet of pink and purple blossoms every five to seven years. Over 200 species of flowers unpredictably pop up in the driest place on earth when the conditions are just right, and scientists study the phenomenon to learn about survival in drought. This year, when Atacama had an even rarer winter bloom, the new Chilean president immediately moved to protect the region with national park status.
Galapagos Land Iguana
WHERE: Galapagos, Ecuador
In the birthplace of Darwin’s theory of evolution, these iguanas are having babies for the first time in almost 200 years. The Galapagos land iguanas disappeared from Santiago Island in the early 20th century. The iguanas grow up to five feet in length and help stabilize the habitats of these islands, leaving Santiago woefully unbalanced. In 2019, the Galapagos National Park reintroduced more than 3,000 iguanas from nearby islands. In August of 2022, Ecuador’s Minister of Environment, Water and Ecological Transition confirmed evidence that the giant lizards are naturally reproducing once again.
Greater One-Horned Rhino
Meet the new baby boomers. One of the rarest rhinos in the world now has its highest numbers in over 20 years. The Greater One-Horned rhino disappeared from Bhutan and Bangladesh and is now only found in Nepal’s lowlands and India. At the start of the 19th century, the species had fewer than 200 rhinos, but with habitat conservation and poaching protection efforts, the behemoth has been rebounding.
Nepal’s national park service reported in 2021 that the population boomed to its highest level during the pandemic. While funding from tourism slowed, so did the habitat damage from travelers. On World Rhino Day, conservation officers announced the population was steady at 752, with 100 more Nepali rhinos than in 2015.
WHERE: Rwanda, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Predicted to go extinct by 2000, the mountain gorilla population tripled by 2022. While still endangered, more than one thousand mountain gorillas are spread across the territory now. It is the only great ape whose numbers are on the rise. The mountain gorillas across these central African countries are one of conservation’s wildest success stories and has been a joint effort of biologists, communities, government, and even tourists. National parks to protect the forests in these countries were just one step. Community co-management of the parks and conservation funding shifted attitudes around poaching and deforestation. Successful ecotourism cemented the efforts. Mountain gorillas are the primary draw for travelers, helping bring value to the communities that participate.
With a thirty-foot wingspan, the giant manta ray is hard to miss. This makes the population count all the easier as Indonesian conservationist teams confirm that the rays numbers are on the rise even as global manta ray numbers are falling. In 2022 researchers saw more mantas around the tightly regulated Komodo National Park. In December, counts confirmed the same rise for Indonesia’s Raja Ampat archipelago. Scientists believe Indonesia now has the highest number of manta rays worldwide and hope the country continues its protection policies.
The European Bison is the largest European animal in existence and warrants a check for the full story of this animal at Wikipedia - especially the paragraphs: Early Modern Period through 1950’sOnwards. You will see that awareness of a possibility of extinction and ensuing laws protecting the species existed as early as 1500’s in Poland. Secondly that despite the laws and following WW1 last wild European bisons disappeared in early 1920s also in Poland, but thanks to the existence of small populations in the Zoo’s a breeding program could be established. By 1929 a first 2 wild bison born in captivity were released into the forest in eastern Poland then population grew slowly but steadily. It is only thanks to Zoo’s stocks a breeding program and adequate protection that we can admire this magnificent animal again in its natural habitat in other countries along with other animals reintroduced to their original habitats...