4 of the Biggest Wins (and 4 Losses) for Wildlife in 2015
Between poaching epidemics, growing deforestation, and rampant development, wildlife conservation efforts can sometimes seem futile.
But the past year recorded a number of victories for the world’s animals. Below are a few conservation highlights—and lowlights—of 2015.
Win: In September, China and the United States, the top two markets for elephant ivory, promised to enact complete bans on ivory sales.
“Two of the most powerful heads of state want an end to all ivory trade,” Cristián Samper, chief executive of the Wildlife Conservation Society, told TakePart in September. “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.”
Loss: Poachers continued the unrestrained slaughter of African and Asian elephants. It’s estimated that 96 elephants are killed each day for their tusks. In October, poachers in Zimbabwe resorted to using cyanide to take down their targets, and park rangers reported that 78 elephants were poisoned in one month alone. “It is a horrible way to die,” Carel Verhoef, a professional African guide, told CNN.
Win: In the past decade, hundreds of thousands of square miles of ocean habitat have been designated as marine protected areas. In July, the Philippines created the nation’s first sanctuary for sharks and rays—two species in decline owing to overfishing and poaching. And in September, New Zealand banned fishing, mining, oil exploration, and other human activities in an ocean area twice the size of the country.
The United States and Cuba signed an agreement in November to protect coral reefs and marine life the 90-mile stretch of ocean between the two countries. It’s the first environmental accord between the U.S. and Cuba since the renewal of diplomatic relations earlier this year.
Loss: Even with those gains, marine conservation is nowhere near adequate to protect the ocean’s vast number of species. In one study, researchers found that only 10 percent of the range of some 17,000 species—including whales, sharks, and rays—has been protected.
Win: The past year marked a momentum shift of sentiment against trophy hunting. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed the African lion as a candidate for endangered species protections, and as many as 45 commercial airlines have banned the transport of hunting trophies by big game hunters who travel to Africa to kill elephants, lions, and rhinos.
Millions of people also signed petitions urging action against trophy hunting, and France became the first European nation to ban the import of lion parts from animals killed as trophies.
Loss: The catalyst for many of those efforts was the killing of one of the world’s most famous lions, Cecil. The black-maned big cat was a popular and beloved tourist attraction at Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park before he was shot and killed by American dentist Walter Palmer.
4. Bees and Butterflies
Win: The White House in May issued a plan to conserve honeybees and monarchs, two pollinating insects crucial to America’s food supply. The plan calls for restoring millions of acres of federal and private land with milkweed. The sole food source of monarch caterpillars, milkweed has been eradicated from much of the Midwest because of the industrialization of agriculture. The administration also proposed to ban agricultural pesticide spraying when honeybees are present.
Loss: Increasingly potent pesticides continue to harm pollinators, with the number of monarchs completing their annual migration from the U.S. to Mexico falling from a billion butterflies in the 1990s to just 56.5 million today. And between April 2014 and April 2015, 40 percent of managed colonies of honeybees died—the second-highest loss recorded.
Conservationists argue that the federal government’s pollinator plan needs to immediately restrict the use of new pesticides and curtail the widespread spraying of a class of insecticides called neonicotinoids, which scientists have linked to the mass bee die-off of recent years.