Portrait Series II: 3 species on the path to recovery
Last week I told you about the plight of the Amur tiger, the vaquita and the hawksbill turtle, three critically endangered species. This week, I want to tell you about three other incredible animals whose future is looking a little brighter thanks to dedicated conservation efforts and ecotourism.
In the midst of all the grim news about the fate of our planet, the mountain gorillas, the greater one-horned rhinos and Madagascar’s lemurs are here to remind us that hope is worth holding onto and conservation efforts are never in vain.
These gentle giants were first discovered in 1902. They roam the slopes of the Virunga Mountains bordering the RDC, Uganda and Rwanda and the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. It was once thought that the species would disappear in the same century it was discovered.
Mountain gorillas have a ticker fur than their great ape counterparts, which allows them to live at altitudes of between 8,000 to 10,000 feet. However, human encroachment into gorilla territory for cattle grazing and agriculture has pushed them further up the mountains where they have to face harsh and sometimes deadly conditions.
Poaching also poses a serious threat to the great apes. Whilst it is uncommon for them to be directly targeted by poachers, they are often victims of snares set for other species. Additionally, their habitat is further being destroyed by illegal charcoal production.
However, relentless conservation efforts and increased awareness about their plight have seen their numbers steadily increasing from 620 in 1989 to 880 today. Ecotourism in particular has played a crucial role. It is estimated that one mountain gorilla alone can generate up to £2.5 million in tourism revenue. The revenue generated by ecotourism is an incredible resource to fund conservation efforts. Additionally, it also provides financial incentives for the local population to protect mountain gorillas and represents a good alternative to poaching.
Greater One-Horned Rhinos
The greater one-horned rhino is a great example of a conservation success story that has seen the species come back from the brink in just a century. From less than 200 individuals remaining in the wild at the start of the 20th century, greater one-horned rhino numbers have increased to 3,555 individuals today.
The greater one-horned rhino is the largest of all rhino species and can be found in Northern India and Southern Nepal. Hunting was the historical reason for its decline. Europeans and Asians hunted them for sport nearly to extinction. After a hunting ban was established in the early 20th century, poaching became the biggest threat, driven by the demand in rhino horns. Habitat loss due to increased clearing of land for human activity also threatens the species. The existing protected areas are reaching their limits in the number of rhinos they can support leading to rhinos wandering out of the parks’ boundaries and into surrounding villages. Human-rhino conflicts remain a serious problem putting both rhinos and humans at risk.
The first step towards recovery was the creation of India’s Kaziranga National Park in the early 1900s, which now harbours two-thirds of the total population of greater one-horned rhinos. Ecotourism is playing a key part in the success of the park and the protection of its wildlife. Kaziranga National Park is the region’s main tourist attraction. The revenue raised by tourism helps fund anti-poaching units as well as show local people that rhinos are worth more alive than dead.
These enigmatic creatures can only be found in Madagascar and the Comoros Islands. There are over 100 species of lemurs, most of them endangered today. They vary in colour and size and display distinct behaviours. The Indri, the largest of all lemurs sings like a whale while the Sifaka moves through the sand like a ballet dancer.
They can also be found in a range of different habitats such as tropical rainforests, spiny dry forests, semi-arid desert canyons and cool central highlands. However, about 80% of lemur’s natural habitat in Madagascar has been cleared for agriculture.
In 2009, a coup threw the country in political turmoil. Five years of violence and instability followed, which put a stop to conservation efforts. The country saw a surge in illegal logging of rosewood and ebony trees, further destroying the lemur’s fragile habitat.
In 2014, following smooth elections and a return to stability, international help as well as tourists returned to the country. Ecotourism is now a priority for the Malagasy government and is seen as a crucial part of the solution to save Madagascar’s lemurs. In the past few years, protected areas have tripled as the urgency of the situation dawns on the country.
Ecotourism is bringing much-needed resources. Lemurs are increasingly seen as Madagascar’s golden ticket out of poverty thereby reinforcing incentives for their protection. Anja Community Reserve is an example of a successful project managed by local people where tourism and conservation work together to protect the forest’s wildlife and notably the endangered ring-tailed lemur.
The stories of the mountain gorillas, greater one-horned rhinos and Madagascar’s lemurs show that there is no such thing as a doomed fate. Well-managed ecotourism coupled with strong political commitment to conservation can turn things around dramatically. However, all three animals remain endangered and it is important not to rest on our laurels. Efforts must continue to permanently erase their names from the long list of endangered species.