Species protection: Review of Light & Shadow 2023

The WWF counts lions among the losers, because in 2023 it became clear that their populations were continuing to decline despite conservation efforts. © skynesher/iStock

Overall, things continue to go downhill dangerously - but the commitment to the fight against species extinction is worth it: This message once again conveys the nature conservation organization WWF's assessment of the developments in the past year. As a symbol for the species that have fared worse - or better, the WWF presents its losers and winners for 2023.

Last year was also fundamentally characterized by a downward trend, emphasizes the WWF: In total, the International Red List now identifies over 44,000 animal, plant and fungal species as threatened. Through habitat destruction, overexploitation, invasive species, environmental pollution and climate change, humans are currently causing the largest mass extinction since the end of the dinosaurs. “We are the perpetrators, but also the victims,” emphasizes Kathrin Samson from WWF Germany. “Because we depend on vital ecosystems and biodiversity for our own safe and healthy lives. We therefore need ambitious nature conservation in Germany and worldwide,” says Samson.

Loser 2023

To illustrate the emergency, the WWF is highlighting six examples of species and animal groups that experienced negative developments last year.

Lions: It was shown that the population of big cats in Africa fell again by eight percent from 2018 to 2023. The lion population is now estimated at around 23,000 animals. The increased protective measures of the last few years were able to slow down the strong downward trend, but unfortunately were not able to end it.

Amazon river dolphins: In 2023 it became clear how, in addition to hydroelectric power plants and environmental pollution, the climate crisis is also threatening rare freshwater mammals. Over 200 river dolphins have died in Lake Tefé in the Amazon since September. The unusually high water temperatures of up to over 39 degrees Celsius probably led to the drastic losses.

Amphibians: In 2023, the great die-off in the kingdom of frogs, toads and salamanders was once again becoming apparent. According to the Red List, over 40 percent of all amphibian species worldwide are acutely threatened. 185 amphibian species are now listed as “possibly extinct.” The salamander group is particularly affected by habitat loss and other threats: more than every second species is classified as threatened.

Atlantic salmon: The fish that hatch in rivers and then migrate to the sea are affected by dams and water pollution. A decline in stocks of 23 percent has now been noted in recent years. Young salmon in particular are apparently affected by increased mortality. In addition, the salmon louse, which often infects farmed salmon, also threatens wild stocks.

Humboldt penguins: The already endangered species was hit by bird flu in October. Around 3,000 of the approximately 10,000 Humboldt penguins breeding in Chile have died. It is now feared that the virus will also spread to Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands and cause losses among various species there.

North Sea cod: The EU's 2023 agreements with Norway and Great Britain on permitted catches of the popular food fish could lead to further overfishing. According to the WWF, a decided reduction in catch quantities will not come into effect. The plaice fishery is to be increased by 19 percent - the cod will then end up in the net as bycatch.

Bright spots 2023

So there is again a lot to complain about. But in order to make it clear that the commitment to protecting species is worthwhile, the WWF is once again comparing the negative developments with positive examples.

Rhinos: The southern white rhinos, which were still highlighted as losers when looking back at 2022, have now fortunately become winners. After years of dwindling populations due to poaching, the number has increased by around five percent to a total of around 16,800 specimens. It is also becoming apparent that things could continue like this: More than 2,000 animals from a rhino breeding project are soon to be released into the wild.

Bison: The European counterparts to the American bison are allowed to re-establish themselves in the Caucasus. Ten bison from German zoos traveled to a national park in Azerbaijan in November. As part of the reintroduction project, 100 animals are to be released there by 2028, the WWF reports.

Saiga antelopes: Hunting and repeated epidemics had severely decimated the Asian steppe inhabitants with the distinctive proboscis noses. Therefore, the saiga antelopes were classified as “critically endangered”. But this is no longer the case. Thanks to intensive protection efforts, the population has grown significantly again: to around 1.3 million animals.

Snow leopards and tigers: A survey using 300 wildlife cameras in the Himalayan state of Bhutan identified 134 snow leopards. In 2016, however, only 96 individuals were detected. Pleasing developments in the population of another Asian big cat were also recorded: over 3,600 tigers were recorded in India. In addition, recordings from camera traps in Malaysia give hope that small tiger populations can also be preserved.

Sarus cranes: Thanks to intensive conservation efforts, the population of these majestic birds in Nepal has doubled: There are now around 700 Sarus cranes, which symbolize love and devotion in Nepalese culture. However, the species is still considered “endangered”.

Last but not least, the WWF highlights a positive story from Bavaria: the otter almost became a loser in 2023, reports the nature conservation organization. Because the plan was to release the little robber for shooting. But an administrative court ultimately classified the relevant regulations as illegal because the otter population in Bavaria is now still classified as endangered.

Source: WWF World Wide Fund For Nature

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