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3 Big wins for Wildlife Conservation in 2015

A lot is going wrong in the world of conservation, from the poaching crisis and wildlife trade to deforestation and illegal logging, and beyond. Still, we did see some major victories for animals last year. Here are 3 big wins for wildlife in 2015:

1. Elephants
In May, Nepal released numbers that showed the numbers of their endangered one-horned rhinos were up to 675 – a whopping 300 more animals than a decade ago. In August, Thailand destroyed its ivory to join in the fight against poaching elephants and the wildlife trade. And in September, the two largest markets for elephant ivory, U.S. and China, agreed to enact a complete ban on ivory trade.

Chief executive of the Wildlife Conservation Society Cristián Samper told TakePart:

“Two of the most powerful heads of state want an end to all ivory trade. That’s only good news for elephants, and we call upon all governments to follow suit. Once both nations definitively take this action, ivory trafficking will begin to fall, and the number of elephants could rise again.”

 

Image by Lucy Rickards / CC BY 2.0
Image by Lucy Rickards / CC BY 2.0

2. Oceans
A lot happened for for oceans in 2015: in July, the Philippines created its first sanctuary for the declining shark and ray populations. In September, New Zealand banned fishing, oil exploration, mining and other human disturbances in an area of ocean twice the size of the country itself. And in November, the U.S. and Cuba agreed to protect coral reefs and marine wildlife in the 90-miles of ocean between the two countries.

 

Image by Pius Mahimbi / CC BY-SA 2.0
Image by Pius Mahimbi / CC BY-SA 2.0

3. Lions
In 2015, we witnessed the tragic killing of Cecil the lion. But that catapulted the poaching issue, and the search for solutions, into the public eye. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed to give the African lion endangered species protections. In addition, 45 commercial airlines banned the transportation of hunting trophies from lions, elephants and rhinos in 2015.

 
 
Featured image by Stuart Orford
/ CC BY-SA 2.0

U.S. and Russia Have Joined Forces to Save the Polar Bear

The U.S., Russia, Canada, Denmark and Norway have teamed up to save the polar bear. The five countries – each with territory above the Arctic Circle and all signatories to a 1973 treaty to preserve the species – signed a new agreement to protect the bears as climate change melts its home.

The agreement involves a new 10-year plan that brings the countries together in a pan-Arctic approach. Scientists will work together to collect better estimates of current polar bear populations and evaluate the effects of climate change, pollution and disease. They will meet every two years to report on the progress and collaborate further.

Director of the World Wildlife Fund’s Global Arctic Program Alexander Shestakov says:

“After 40 years of cooperation, this is the first time when parties came together to agree on one circumpolar action plan for polar bears. It doesn’t mean for 40 years they weren’t doing anything. But there was a real need for a pan-Arctic approach.”

Photo by Christopher Michel / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Christopher Michel / CC BY 2.0

When the countries first signed the 1973 treaty to protect polar bears, the major threat was uncontrolled hunting. Now, the biggest threat is climate change and warming temperatures in the Arctic, as polar bears overall lack the ability to survive in warmer temperatures

Specifically, higher temperatures result in melting sea ice, which takes away the polar bears only habitat and the habitat of its prey. Melting ice has also stranded polar bears on land for longer periods in the year, leaving them with less access to food and more risk from people.

This summer proved to be another near record melting of sea ice. An image of an emaciated polar bear in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago by German photographer Kerstin Langenberger shows just how terrible this issue has become. She posted the image to Facebook on August 20 and it quickly went viral, becoming the latest symbol of climate change. Sadly, Langenberger says it was not an unusual sight:

Photo by Kerstin Langenberger
Photo by Kerstin Langenberger

Polar bears cannot survive in the wild unless the Arctic remains cold enough and covered by a good deal of ice year-round. But temperatures will continue to rise and ice will continue to melt if we don’t take action. Over the next few decades, countries around the world must cut burning coal and oil. If not, scientists believe the Arctic summer sea ice will disappear by the middle of the century and with it, the polar bears will likely disappear too.

 
 
Featured image by Kerstin Langenberger

U.S. and China Team Up to Fight Illegal Wildlife Trade With a Ban on Ivory

The two largest markets for ivory are working together to put an end to its illegal trade. The U.S. and China have agreed to enact almost a complete ban on the import and export of ivory to help minimize elephant poaching.

The ban covers “significant and timely restrictions on the import of ivory as hunting trophies” and unspecified “significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory.” It follows China’s decision in May to phase out the legal, domestic manufacture and sale of ivory products.

Photo by Ben Haeringer / CC BY-ND 2.0
Photo by Ben Haeringer / CC BY-ND 2.0

China is the largest market for poached ivory and the U.S. is estimated to be the second largest. Slashing the supply of ivory to the Chinese market is critical to decreasing the number of African elephant deaths due to poaching.

According to a March 2015 survey by WildAid, African Wildlife Foundation and Save The Elephants, support for this ivory trade ban is high. 95% of people surveyed in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou believed the government should impose the ivory ban. In addition, the survey showed that awareness about ivory poaching increased by 50% since 2012.

The White House said that the U.S. and China would cooperate with other nations in a complete effort to fight the wildlife trade.

 
 
Featured image by Diana Robinson / CC BY-ND 2.0