We’re working to stabilise or increase populations of many of the world’s most iconic and threatened species.
Turnaround for Tigers
This year we celebrated the fabulous news that wild tiger numbers have increased globally for the first time in conservation history. The new estimate puts the global figure at around 3,900 wild tigers – up from as few as 3,200 six years ago when we began ‘TX2’, our 12-year goal to help double wild tiger numbers. The increase gives us great hope that we can reverse species declines when governments, communities and conservationists work together. We’re focusing our efforts on helping to protect, connect and improve tiger habitats, tackle wildlife trafficking and eradicate poaching. We’re also doing all we can to raise awareness of the plight of tigers. For instance, we launched a hugely successful TV advert encouraging everyone to become tiger protectors, which appeared in the run-up to Christmas. And we ran a #ThumbsUpForTigers campaign so people could show their support for the goal to double wild tiger numbers by 2022.
We were encouraged by the announcement this year that giant pandas are no longer officially endangered. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List, pandas are now classed as ‘vulnerable’ rather than the previous status of ‘endangered’. This is positive news and was influenced in large part by the results of China’s fourth National Giant Panda survey, which found an increase of nearly 17% in wild panda numbers. This was the result of decades of conservation efforts by the Chinese government, local communities, nature reserve staff and WWF. But the species remains at risk – particularly from large-scale infrastructure development that’s fragmenting panda habitat, and climate change which could eliminate more than a third of the panda’s habitat in the next 80 years. This year, we’ve supported successful efforts to restore wildlife corridors connecting panda populations. In one of them, we’ve supported a plan that will limit the impact of road development, intensive livestock grazing and firewood collection.
SANCTUARY FOR BLACK RHINOS
Black rhinos face increasing pressure from poaching. But this year, an annual survey showed their numbers in Kenya had increased by nearly 5%, to 678. This was achieved thanks to a 69% reduction in poaching incidences since 2014, and a record 45 births. What’s more, the critically-endangered species now has an additional 100 square kilometres of safe habitat in the country, thanks to a new rhino sanctuary in Tsavo East national park. We supported the creation of the sanctuary, which is currently home to 13 black rhinos. More are to be translocated there, and we expect this safe home to enable a substantial increase of this population. This vital project is the result of several years of work with Kenya Wildlife Service and other partners.
HOPE FOR AMUR LEOPARDS
We helped to coordinate a three-year study of the movements of Amur leopards across the border between Russia and China, during which the two countries shared and analysed camera trap images. At least 15 Amur leopards were seen in both countries. Among them were at least two Russian-born Amur leopards that moved to China to establish their own territories. This is good news, as it shows these magnificent cats are re-establishing themselves in areas where they once roamed. It also strengthens the call to improve habitat management and protection in this transboundary region. A new report we helped to produce offers even greater hope for the recovery of Amur leopards: it confirms there are large areas of suitable habitat in north-east China that together with the existing range could support around 195 of the big cats. We’re also supporting a vital project to establish a second population of these critically endangered cats, which are estimated to number around 70.
GLOBAL WILDLIFE PROTECTION
With wildlife under such pressure, it’s essential that the world’s governments unite to tackle threats such as poaching and illegal trade. In the autumn the world’s largest wildlife trade meeting gathered – the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. We contributed to successful outcomes that will provide greater protection for threatened species and will boost efforts to tackle wildlife trafficking. The conference agreed with many of the recommendations we lobbied for. Countries voted to maintain the international ban on trade in ivory and rhino horn. They agreed global bans on trade in all eight species of pangolin, as well as African grey parrots and rosewood trees. Measures were agreed to combat overfishing of thresher and silky sharks, and devil rays. And countries agreed to close legal domestic ivory markets where they contribute to poaching or illegal trade. China, which has the largest market for illegal ivory, has since committed to do this by the end of 2017. It’s urgently required as it’s estimated that, on average, poachers kill one African elephant every 25 minutes.
Nepal rhinos on the move
We’ve helped a project to establish a second viable population of greater one-horned rhinos in the Terai Arc landscape, a vital region for wildlife in India and Nepal. This year, five rhinos were moved 400km from Chitwan to Bardia national park – an incredible undertaking that you can watch in the video above. One of the rhinos gave birth to a healthy male just two months later, which is an encouraging sign that the relocated rhinos are thriving in their new home, which once lost its entire rhino population to poaching. Over the next few years, 25 more rhinos will be moved from Chitwan to Bardia and to Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve. Nepal’s rhino population has increased to 645, and the translocations are boosting our efforts to restore their number to 800.
Camera traps installed by WWF in the Himalayas in Nepal have given us new information about the elusive snow leopard, as well as capturing captivating snippets of their daily life (as you’ll see in the video of a mother and cub, above). This year we also supported the first GPS collaring of a female snow leopard, in Nepal’s Kangchenjunga Conservation Area. We’ve already discovered that the female crossed into the Tibet Autonomous Region of China for a long time before returning to Nepal. This highlights the need to work across international boundaries in pursuit of snow leopard conservation. To this end, we’ve provided major support to establish a new snow leopard conservation programme in China – where it’s estimated that more than half the world’s snow leopards live.
During the year we expanded our ongoing efforts to minimise conflict between people and polar bears, by supporting a new polar bear patrol in Alaska. It means we now support similar important projects in at least 10 communities across four of the five Arctic countries that are home to polar bears: Canada, Greenland, Russia and the US (Alaska). Results so far are promising: in a Greenland community where polar bear conflict incidences were the highest in the country in 2014, the patrols helped to reduce ‘defence’ killing of polar bears to zero in 2016.
Javan rhino celebration
We celebrated the announcement of the largest number of wild Javan rhino births in Ujung Kulon National Park in a single year since monitoring began. The news relates to figures from 2015. The seven new calves mean the population of this critically-endangered species is now up to 63, raising hopes for the world’s rarest rhino after years of declining numbers. We’ve been helping to improve the habitat in the park by controlling an invasive palm plant that’s overrun more than half of the park, leaving it barren of food for rhinos. Removing the palm will boost the amount of food available to the rhinos. We’ve also been supporting the Indonesian government’s plans to create a second population of Javan rhinos in another secure habitat.
Amazing Amazon discoveries
The Araguaian river dolphin, the fire-tailed titi monkey and a bright orange-striped lizard were among 381 newly-discovered Amazon species that we featured in a report this year. The report was compiled by our Living Amazon initiative and the Mamiraua Institute for Sustainable Development. It catalogues all the Amazon plants and vertebrate animals that were described between 2014 and 2015. Amazingly they include 20 mammals, as well as 32 amphibians, 19 reptiles, 93 fish, one bird and 216 plants. The report serves as a reminder of just how much we continue to discover in this, the most biodiverse area on the planet. In fact, the rate of discovery is going up! Yet we’re losing many species to habitat destruction, many of them before they are known to science. We remain determined to halt deforestation and boost protected areas.
This year the Bornean orang-utan was reclassified as ‘critically endangered’, but there was a new glimmer of hope for the species as a further 147,000 hectares of habitat that’s vital to its survival was recently reclassified or newly gazetted. It’s part of a commitment by north-east Borneo’s Sabah government to protect 30% of its forest. It’s now reached 24%. The findings of aerial surveys of orang-utan nests, carried out with support from us, influenced the designation of these ‘high conservation value areas’.