The 9 Most Inspiring Conservation Success Stories From 2020

It’s been a challenging year for everyone on Earth, animals, vegetables and minerals included.

This year started off with an uprising of environmental activism the likes of which had not been seen before. Many of those intentions were deferred when a global pandemic took precedent.

We humans endured restrictive social distancing measures to protect our own species, which indirectly gave some important ecosystems a temporary reprieve from heavy transportation and industrial machinery. In its place, our oceans and natural wilderness have now become polluted with personal protection equipment (PPE).

A new species of frog was discovered in Bolivia.
Source: Facebook/Conservation International
A new species of frog was discovered in Bolivia.

Before crossing 2020 off as a complete failure, we should still celebrate the environmental wins of the last 12 months, accomplished while facing far steeper adversity than ever before seen.

We’ve discovered new species, protected thousands of acres of critical habitat, and planned out new policies to protect generations who come after us.

Here are some of our favorite conservation success stories from 2020:

9. Madagascar chameleon rediscovery

This chameleon was discovered in Madagascar.
Source: Youtube/David Prötzel
This chameleon was discovered in Madagascar.

An expedition team in northwestern Madagascar rediscovered Voeltzkow’s chameleon, not seen since 1913. As Global Wildlife Conservation reports, scientists witnessed the colorful female of the species for the first time in over a century.

8. 20 New species found in Bolivia

A group of scientists working in the Bolivian Andes has discovered at least 20 new species in the region, and reaffirmed the existence of several other species of flora and fauna that have not been seen since the last century.

According to CNN, the discoveries were made in the rugged terrain and verdant jungles of the Zongo Valley near the Bolivian capital of La Paz.

This new species of venomous pit viper uses heat-sensing pits on its head to detect prey.
Source: Facebook/Conservation International
This new species of venomous pit viper uses heat-sensing pits on its head to detect prey.

“[In Zongo] the noises you hear are from nature — all sorts of insects, frogs and birds calling, wonderful rushing sounds and cascades of waterfalls. Everything is covered in thick layers of moss, orchids and ferns,” Trond Larsen, one of the lead researchers in the 14-day expedition and a member of the non-profit environmental group Conservation International, told CNN. “We didn’t expect to find so many new species and to rediscover species that had been thought to be extinct.”

7. New Lemur species discovered

The Jonah’s mouse lemur was discovered in Madagascar.
Source: YouTube/BBC Earth
The Jonah’s mouse lemur was discovered in Madagascar.

Lemurs are critically endangered animals. According to the Smithsonian, about 98 percent of Lemur species are threatened with extinction.

Rather than sound the bell of their demise, scientists this past year added a new name to the count of Lemur species—the diminutive Jonah’s mouse lemur, Microcebus jonahi, named after Malagasy primatologist Professor Jonah Ratsimbazafy.

“To study mouse lemurs in the wild, our team patiently searched for ‘eyeshine’ through the thick and dense vegetation of the eastern rainforest at night,” said Researcher Marina Blanco. “Occasionally, we could get a quick glimpse of an elusive lemur jumping out of sight. Determined to find out more about their biology, we briefly captured a few mouse lemurs at Mananara National Park. Even after a closer look, we could not put a name on it!”

6. The 30 by 2030 Agreement

World leaders came together to sign the 30 by 2030 Agreement.
Source: Pexels
World leaders came together to sign the 30 by 2030 Agreement.

While the COVID-19 pandemic may have derailed many hopes for the year, the climate crisis we were talking about before lockdown never went away. Acknowledging that the climate change poses greatest threats to human existence perhaps in history, 71 world leaders have endorsed a 10 point pledge to accelerate action to reverse nature loss by 2030 and tackle global warming.

Justin Trudeau, Jacinda Ardern, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, Prince Charles and Boris Johnson joined other world leaders in signing the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, which maintains that our plane “state of planetary emergency.”

As Mongabay reports, “the pledge addresses sustainable food systems and supply chains, eliminating unregulated fishing, reducing air pollution, integrating a “One-Health” approach, and the participation of Indigenous peoples in decision-making.”

“I call on all leaders to commit to protecting at least 30% of the planet by 2030. It is a goal that is firmly grounded in scientific evidence,” said Frans Timmermans, executive vice president of the European Commission. “The 30% target backed up by strong financial support for nature is at the same time an environmental imperative and a great opportunity to improve our health and help our economies transition to a sustainable economy … We have one chance and once chance only to get it right … It can be done. It should be done.”

5. Indigenous-led advances

New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland has been nominated to serve as Secretary of the Interior.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland has been nominated to serve as Secretary of the Interior.

New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland is making history as the first Indigenous member of the presidential cabinet. Haaland was nominated to head the Department of the Interior by president-elect Joe Biden.

Nemonte Nenquimo, leader of Ecuador’s Indigenous Waorani nation, was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2020.

As Mongabay reports, Mayan beekeeper Leydy Pech won the Goldman Environmental Prize, as did Nenquimo, for leading a resistance against Monsanto and the proliferation of genetically modified “Roundup ready” soybean crops in seven states in southern Mexico.

According to the NRDC, Canada invested C$175 million in 67 conservation initiatives across every province and territory in 2020.

“This announcement was a key step toward achieving the country’s commitment to protect 17% of its lands by 2020 and 25% by 2025,” the NRDC reports. “The Canadian government has now unveiled details about those initiatives, providing a map that shows the scale and scope of these globally vital projects. From Innu-led species protection in Newfoundland and Labrador and Cree-designed protected areas in Quebec to the expansion of Thaidene Nëné National Park Reserve in the Northwest Territories, these conservation initiatives are a critical means of empowering Indigenous Peoples to determine the future of their own lands.”

4. Swift fox reintroduced to Northern Montana

The Swift fox was declared extinct in Montana in 1969.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Swift fox was declared extinct in Montana in 1969.

Swift foxes have always been found in the southern U.S. but they were declared extinct in Montana in 1969. Between 1983 and 1991 the foxes were reintroduced to Canada, and to Blackfeet Indian Reservation in northwestern Montana in 1998. Today the foxes have returned to a region north of Montana’s Milk River.

As landscape ecologist Hila Shamon writes in Smithsonian’s National Zoo % Conservation Biology Institute, “Swift foxes have since returned to parts of Montana but are currently split into two populations separated by a gap of about 200 miles. The northern population is found near the Canadian border and the southern population near the Wyoming border. The members of Fort Belknap Indian Community are interested in reintroducing swift foxes, both for their cultural significance and for the opportunity to reestablish a connection between these two populations.”

3. Tasmanian devils on the rebound

Tasmanian devils disappeared from the Australian mainland about 3,000 years ago.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Tasmanian devils disappeared from the Australian mainland about 3,000 years ago.

Endangered Tasmanian devils had not been seen on Australian mainland for 3,000 years until recent efforts to repopulate the animals began to succeed. Today there are 26 of the animals in Australia, and they seem to be flourishing.

As National Geographic reports, the Tasmanian Devil likely disappeared from mainland Australian when hunters killed off their main sources of food. Making matters worse, the population on the island state of Tasmania have been decimated by a contagious and deadly mouth cancer.

Scientists introduced 15 devils to the Australian wilderness in March 2020, Nat Geo reports, followed by another 11 in September. The devils are all on their own, and they appear to be thriving.

“They’re free. They’re out there,” says Tim Faulkner, president of AussieArk, a species recovery organization. “We’ve got some basic means of keeping an eye on them. But essentially, now it’s over to the devils to do what they do.”

2. Species saved from extinction

This black stilt or kakī was raised in captivity.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
This black stilt or kakī was raised in captivity.

According to Mongabay, a captive-breeding and reintroduction program helped the remaining population of a critically endangered wading bird from New Zealand grow by 30% in 2020. Scientists released 104 captive-bred black stilt or kakī, Himantopus novaezelandiae, into New Zealand’s forests.

The last 14 Loa water frogs on earth, rescued from a drying stream in northern Chile, produced 200 tadpoles in October.

In Myanmar, the captive population of Burmese roofed turtles grew to nearly 1,000 in 2020. The turtles were once considered extinct but are no longer threatened.

1. Lonco Vaca habitat protected

Andean Condors soar over the Patagonian Steppe.
Source: Pixabay
Andean Condors soar over the Patagonian Steppe.

Thanks to the help of the International Living Future Institute and readers like you, GreaterGood.org has expanded the protected space of a critical habitat in Argentina.

Native species like Andean cats, condors, and llamas are facing threats of habitat destruction as local farmers use the Patagonian steppe to let their livestock graze. The Rainforest Site, founded in 2000 to protect vital habitats and endangered flora and fauna, and GreaterGood.org have teamed up with the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and Fundación Vida Silvestre Argentina (Vida Silvestre) to buy back the rights to these lands from the farmers.

With a $20,000 donation from ILFI, the Lonco Vaca habitat will be incorporated into the Payunia Reserve, the largest protected area in the steppe.

Guancos, a type of South American llama, migrate throughout Argentina.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Guancos, a type of South American llama, migrate throughout Argentina.

“By buying out the grazing rights from livestock producers we have reached an agreement with the Mendoza provincial government to incorporate these lands into the strictly protected core of the reserve,” said Carina Righi, Director of WCS Argentina.

With more square acreage, greater number of migratory species will be protected from ranchers and landowners who treat these animals as a nuisance. That includes the guanacos who breed throughout the steppe, endangered Andean cats that are  targeted by livestock farmers, and the condors that make their homes in the mountains nearby.

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