by Kirsten Howard
In September 2016, almost 50 years of constant breeding and conservation, the giant panda was removed from the endangered species list. Once a common sight in southern China, the panda’s number dropped dramatically due to poaching and skin trading until the 1980s, when the Chinese government began to cracked down on its persecution. Now, there are just under 2000 giant pandas left in the world—a 17 percent increase since 2002.
It’s not the first time a species has been dragged back from the brink. Here are eight other animals that have fought their way back from oblivion—with a lot of help from protected status, conservation laws, and dedicated biologists.
1. THE AMERICAN ALLIGATOR
It may seem ludicrous now that alligators are so plentiful in the United States, often turning up in gardens and on screen as a popular way to die in horror films, but once upon a time, the humble alligator was on the verge of extinction, thanks to the popularity of its skin as material for shoes, jackets, and bags.
During the late 1960s, the alligator was added to the Endangered Species Preservation Act. Twenty years later, they were well on their way back from their dwindling numbers, and in 1987 were declared fully recovered [PDF].
2. THE WHITE RHINO
South Africa’s white rhino went from discovery to near-extinction in just 75 years. In the 1800s, European settlers annihilated the population for sport, and the species was thought to be completely destroyed. But in 1885, 20 remaining white rhinos were discovered in a remote location in Kwazulu-Natal. They were protected and bred for more than a hundred years, and there are now a robust 20,000 white rhinos in the wild.
3. THE GRIZZLY BEAR
The undisputed apex predator of the western United States, the grizzly bear was once on the verge of disappearing from the country forever. In the 1970s, however, when it was discovered that there were only about 140 left, the grizzly was placed on the Endangered Species List in 1975. Now, there are around 1200 wandering around Yellowstone and the Rocky Mountain West—and about 50,000 in the world. They're doing so well, some say they should be taken off the endangered species list.
4. THE SIBERIAN TIGER
The Siberian tiger—the biggest cat in the world, native to Russia, China and Korea—was heavily hunted until the mid-1940s, when Russia finally banned killing tigers. The Russian population has steadily risen from just 40 to around 500, but China and Korea haven’t seen one around for ages.
5. THE ISLAND FOX
The island fox, which is endemic to California's Channel Islands, suffered a 90 percent population decrease in the 1990s, when pesticide use wiped out bald eagles on the islands. Eagerly replacing the fish-loving bald eagles were their fox-hungry counterparts, the golden eagle—which quickly set about demolishing the cat-sized island fox.
It took a huge conservation effort to bring the island fox back from near-extinction, as bald eagles were reintroduced, golden ones relocated, and feral pigs spread around for prey—all while the foxes were bred in captivity to increase their numbers.
The operation has been enough of a success that three subspecies of island fox have been removed from the endangered species list. One remains on the list but has has been reclassified as "threatened."
6. THE GOLDEN MONKEY
Brazil’s golden lion tamarind makes its home in the Atlantic rainforest near the bustling populations of Rio and Sao Paolo. Consequently, the monkeys' numbers dwindled to around 200 after 93 percent of the rainforest was cut and cleared. Conservationists and government programs have struggled since the 1980s to boost the monkey’s numbers using a variety of methods, and the population has steadily risen to about 1000. However, the population must double before it'll be removed from the list.
7. THE WOOD STORK
A large American wading bird, the wood stork’s population has dropped by 90 percent since the 1930s, landing it on the endangered species list in. Thanks to cooperation between governments and conservation groups in restoring wetlands in the southern U.S., the wood stork population is back up around 6000. Its status was upgraded to "threatened" in 2014.
8. PRZEWALSKI'S HORSE
You might imagine there are plenty of wild horses roaming around the planet right now, but actually the horses we tend to think are wild are domesticated horses that have escaped or been released from protection. There is only one true kind of wild horse left on the entire planet—and that’s Przewalski’s horse.
Found as far back as 20,000 years ago in cave paintings, this horse is the ancestor of every horse we see around these days, but a combination of human domestication and environmental issues meant that by the 1960s, they were considered extinct. Just nine remaining horses from zoos have been used since then to recolonize their old habitat in Mongolia, China, and the Ukraine (where they can be seen roaming around the former site of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant). Today there are about 50 animals. With such small numbers, they're still considered endangered.