For anyone who cares about animals, Endangered Species Day is an annual day of dread.
More than 14,000 species on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Red List — the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of species — are classified as endangered or critically endangered. This means that they face a high or extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.
But it’s not all bad news. In honor of Endangered Species Day, Human Nature highlights three recent signs of hope for some of the world’s most threatened animals.
Lemurs are making themselves at home in Madagascar’s cacao and vanilla plantations, a recent study found.
A team of scientists found five species — three endangered — moving, resting and grooming among the branches of cacao and their shade trees on 61 farms in northwest Madagascar. The scientists also made the first documented observations of lemurs living in vanilla plantations and found five species on farms grown close to areas of natural forest and amid natural vegetation.
The scientists found no evidence that the lemurs were harming the farms — in fact, the lemurs may actually help out the farmers by eating insects seen as pests on the farms and also by dispersing seeds from shade trees. Most important: None of the lemurs was observed feeding on cacao pods or beans.
“There is a lot of evidence of the value of shade-grown coffee for bird conservation, but this is the first study we have that shows the role that cacao and vanilla farms can play as habitats for lemur species,” said Curan Bonham, director of Conservation International’s Verde Ventures program, which funded the studies.
In August, the government of Ecuador prosecuted a Chinese ship’s crew for illegally transporting endangered species, including more than 6,000 sharks. The case made headlines worldwide and was one of the largest busts to date of illegal fishing in the Galápagos Marine Reserve.
Luis Suarez, vice president of Conservation International Ecuador, told Human Nature in January that before the case was tried, people were shocked by how many species were on board the ship. Authorities found at least one whale shark, several juvenile sharks and numerous other species, many of them endangered.
“This case shows that the government had the political will to act against fishing and illegal transportation of endangered species,” Suarez said. “I hope this will send a strong message to the fishing sector that Ecuador’s taking serious actions against illegal fishing.”
Javan gibbons are dropping in numbers because their sole home, the forests on the Indonesian island of Java are disappearing. Gibbons are also highly sought as pets, and trappers capture the animals — usually when they are still babies — to be sold illegally at markets across Indonesia.
“A Javan gibbon that has been captured and kept as a pet loses its instinct to survive [in the wild],” Pristiani Nurantika, a Javan gibbon researcher and veterinarian, said to Conservation News in October. “So we’re trying to restore that instinct — otherwise, they’ll die if we release them in their current state.”
The Javan Gibbon Foundation (Yayasan Owa Jawa, in Indonesian) and Mount Gede Pangrango National Park operate the Javan Gibbon Rescue and Rehabilitation Program. The partnership, supported by Conservation International, the University of Indonesia and the Silvery Gibbon Project, rescues pet or seized Javan gibbons to be rehabilitated and released into their natural habitat.
Morgan Lynch is a staff writer for Conservation International.