Photograph By GENA STEFFENS
Read Caption
Marketing options
Golden poison frog (endangered)
Coveted by amphibian collectors, this frog has been heavily poached. Conservationist Ivan Lozano captive-breeds a naturally occurring variant of the species—black-foot terribilis, a gold frog with black feet—and believes that offering this variant may steer demand away from wild-caught frogs.
Photograph By GENA STEFFENS

To ward off extinctions, scientists get creative

From coaching captive animals and breeding new variants to deploying dogs and drones, conservationists aim to nurture species.

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

Some scientists contend that we’re heading toward what would be the sixth mass extinction in the history of life on Earth. Human activity has increased the rate of extinction by several orders of magnitude. A recent UN report says around one million species “are now threatened with extinction, many within decades.”

That prospect is grim but not inevitable. Across the world, scientists are using new technologies and unorthodox approaches to bring species back. From lending a hand in breeding to training dogs to sniff out rare gorillas, scientists are taking extraordinary measures to save the animals they love.

View Images
Playing the Part White-naped crane (vulnerable)
When Walnut the crane was brought to the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, she fixated on keeper Chris Crowe and refused to take a mate. Now Crowe (hand shown) plays that role: He mimics crane courtship gestures to get her interested, then artificially inseminates her eggs.
View Images
Introducing the enemy Bilby (vulnerable)
Rabbit-eared Australian marsupials are being hunted out of existence by foxes and feral cats in their environment. Now scientists are exposing bilbies to cats in a fenced reserve in hopes of sensitizing the marsupial to avoid the predator.
View Images
Deploying technology

Kakapo (critically endangered)
With fewer than 150 adults left in the wild, kakapos can’t afford one bad breeding season. To monitor and encourage the birds’ breeding, scientists deploy high-tech gadgets. One example: Drones deliver kakapo semen to scientists so they can artificially inseminate females in the field.

View Images
Following the scent Cross river gorilla (critically endangered)
Africa’s rarest great ape is hard to track in its dense forest habitat. But now scientists get help from former shelter dogs, trained by the group Working Dogs for Conservation, to follow the scent of the gorilla’s poop.