Learn how species that faced extinction are bouncing back

From the fin whale and albatross to the gecko, populations are drawing back from the brink of extinction—thanks to intensive conservation efforts.

This story appears in the October 2019 issue of National Geographic magazine.

More than a quarter of all species assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature are considered threatened. Many species have moved through several of the IUCN Red List categories—from least concern to vulnerable, endangered, critically endangered, and ultimately extinct. But every once in a while, a species takes a step away from the brink—in other words, it’s downlisted. That doesn’t always happen without help. Conservation measures over the years helped improve the status of 13 animal species worldwide in 2018. Such downlistings are worth celebrating, but some scientists worry that they’ll slow the momentum required to keep an animal safe. In assessments so far in 2019 where the status changed, in every case the species declined.

In the red zone

The IUCN has assessed more than 105,000 species—with a goal of 160,000 by 2020—and found more than 28,000 to be threatened by extinction. Scientists don’t know how many species disappeared before they could be counted.

Plants

Vertebrates

Invertebrates

Threatened species

30,000

20,000

10,000

0

2000

2019

CONSERVATION

STATUS

MAIN THREATS

Land use

Least concern

Near threatened

Climate

change

Vulnerable

Invasive species/

disease

Endangered

Critically

endangered

Resource depletion

Human activity

Threatened

Pollution

FIN WHALE

ATL.

OC.

PAC.

OC.

PACIFIC

OCEAN

INDIAN

OC.

Range of

fin whale

The fin whale population has doubled since the 1970s because of reduced catches in the North Atlantic and international bans on commercial whaling.

Mature population

320,000

100,000

1920

2019

Mature population

Some whale species are rebounding, but others, such as the North Atlantic right whale, still face significant threats and could be functionally extinct in just a few decades.

Fin whale

100,000

Humpback whale

84,000

Sei whale

50,000

Blue whale

5,000-15,000

North Atlantic right whale

458

NORTHERN BALD IBIS

MOROCCO

AFRICA

Number of

breeding pairs

147

Egyptian mythology’s iridescent bird, with only a few fully wild colonies left (in Morocco), is being brought back into its former range, including the Alps.

75

1981

2018

AMSTERDAM ALBATROSS

INDIAN

OCEAN

INDIAN

OCEAN

AFRICA

Amsterdam I.

Range of

Amsterdam

albatross

ANTARCTICA

The number of albatrosses nesting on a moss-covered island plateau in the Indian Ocean has risen; invasive mice and disease continue to be a threat.

Number of

breeding pairs

46

8

1981

2019

ROUND ISLAND DAY GECKO

0.4

Encounters

per hour

0.1

2006

2018

Rabbits and goats introduced in the 19th century devastated the gecko’s habitat, but restoration efforts have made the island more hospitable to the lizard.

Round

Island

MAURITIUS

PINK PIGeon

ASIA

INDIAN

OCEAN

AFRICA

INDIAN

OCEAN

MAURITIUS

Population

473

Programs to control predators and encourage breeding on

Mauritius have helped the population climb from fewer than 10 birds in the wild to hundreds.

25

1973

2018

Katie Armstrong, NGM Maps. Sources: IUCN; Birdlife International; Chris Bowden, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; Justin Cooke, IUCN-SSC Cetacean Specialist Group; NIK COLE, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust; Henri Weimerskirch, French National Center for Scientific Research

In the red zone

Plants

Vertebrates

Invertebrates

The IUCN has assessed more than 105,000 species—with a goal of 160,000 by 2020—and found more than 28,000 to be threatened by extinction. Scientists don’t know how many species disappeared before they could be counted.

Threatened species

30,000

20,000

10,000

0

2000

2019

CONSERVATION

STATUS

MAIN THREATS

Human activity

Invasive species/

disease

Land use

Least concern

Near threatened

Resource depletion

Pollution

Climate

change

Vulnerable

Endangered

Critically

endangered

Threatened

FIN WHALE

Mature population

320,000

100,000

1920

2019

The fin whale population has doubled since the 1970s because of reduced catches in the North Atlantic and international bans on commercial whaling.

ATL.

OC.

PAC.

OC.

PACIFIC

OCEAN

INDIAN

OC.

Range of

fin whale

Mature population

Fin whale

Some whale species are rebounding, but others, such as the North Atlantic right whale, still face significant threats and could be functionally extinct

in just a few decades.

100,000

Humpback whale

84,000

Sei whale

50,000

Blue whale

5,000-15,000

North Atlantic right whale

458

Number of

breeding pairs

147

Egyptian mythology’s iridescent bird, with only a few fully wild colonies left (in Morocco), is being brought back into its former range,

including the Alps.

MOROCCO

AFRICA

75

1981

2018

NORTHERN BALD IBIS

INDIAN

The number of albatrosses nesting on a moss-covered island plateau in the Indian Ocean has risen; invasive mice and disease continue to be a threat.

Number of

breeding pairs

OCEAN

46

INDIAN

OCEAN

AFRICA

Amsterdam I.

8

ANTARCTICA

1981

2019

AMSTERDAM ALBATROSS

Population

473

Programs to control predators and encourage breeding on Mauritius have helped the popul- ation climb from fewer than 10 birds in the wild

to hundreds.

25

1973

2018

ASIA

INDIAN

OCEAN

AFRICA

INDIAN

OCEAN

PINK PIGeon

MAURITIUS

0.4

Encounters

per hour

Rabbits and goats introduced in the 19th century devastated the gecko’s habitat, but restoration efforts have made the island more hospitable to the lizard.

Round

Island

MAURITIUS

0.1

2006

2018

ROUND ISLAND DAY GECKO

Katie Armstrong, NGM Maps. Sources: IUCN; Birdlife International; Chris Bowden, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; Justin Cooke, IUCN-SSC Cetacean Specialist Group; NIK COLE, Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust; Henri Weimerskirch, French National Center for Scientific Research