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Six species on the brink - and how we can save them


Partnership. We’ve put the answer first, in case you’re too busy to read to the end.

Fauna & Flora’s long-standing vice-president, Sir David Attenborough, sums it up succinctly: ‘Our natural world is threatened as never before. The threats are both numerous and interrelated, and no single institution, however effective, can hope to address them all alone.’ We agree. And partnership has been at the heart of Fauna & Flora’s work for longer than we care to remember.

Here are half a dozen current examples of how Fauna & Flora is working with conservation partners on the ground to rescue species from the jaws of extinction.

Gorillas on the list

Mountain gorillas benefit from the strictest form of CITES protection – a listing on Appendix I – which prohibits all trade in these charismatic primates. But that nominal protection would be meaningless without active protection on the ground.

The groundbreaking collaboration known today as the International Gorilla Conservation Programme began life as the Mountain Gorilla Project, which Fauna & Flora launched following a nationwide appeal in 1978 in response to a plea from David Attenborough. The coalition has seen the mountain gorilla population rise to well over 1,000, a fourfold increase since work began.

Partnership has been central to that success: between international organisations, between national governments, between protected area staff from the three range states and, critically, with the local people whose livelihoods have improved as a result of our community-focused conservation initiatives.

A mountain gorilla in Volcanoes National Park, one of the last remaining strongholds for this endangered primate. Credit: Steph Baker/Fauna & Flora

Sturgeon under pressure

Sturgeons are ‘living fossils’ –  they’ve been around since the time of the dinosaurs. These freshwater giants can grow to eight metres – that’s longer than a minibus – and weigh up to 1.5 tons. They are renowned for their highly prized roe, sold as caviar, but international trade in all sturgeon species has been tightly regulated under CITES since 1998, due to concerns about unsustainable harvesting of wild populations.

Virtually all the world’s 27 sturgeon species are staring down the barrel of extinction. Georgia’s Rioni River is the last known refuge of the Colchic sturgeon and supports crucial populations of five other critically endangered sturgeon species. Fauna & Flora works with the government and a range of local and regional partners to combat poaching, trafficking and the other grave threats to sturgeons in the Rioni.

Constructive engagement with communities, including the training of ‘citizen inspectors’, has resulted in widespread support for our work. The positive relationship that we have developed with local fishers has had a big impact, encouraging them to report and release any sturgeon they catch, to stick to legal fishing methods, and to help collect data on wild sturgeon.

Data being collected from a juvenile Colchic sturgeon, living proof that this critically endangered species is still breeding in the Rioni River. Credit: Tamar Edisherashvili/Fauna & Flora

Preventing parrot poaching

The visually stunning and vocally versatile yellow-naped amazon is a prime example of the heavy price that parrots pay for their good looks, brain power and loquaciousness. This species is one of the most coveted in the Central American pet trade and its population has been devastated by poaching and trafficking.

The island of Ometepe – a wildlife haven in the middle of Nicaragua’s largest freshwater lake – harbours an estimated 1,800-2,000 yellow-naped amazons, the largest remaining population of this critically endangered parrot. Even in this remote haven, around 40% of nests are thought to have been plundered in recent years to supply the illegal pet trade.

Transcontinental trade in this CITES-listed parrot hasn’t yet exploded, but local, national and regional demand is high. Law enforcement is limited in Ometepe, so communities have a crucial role to play in combating poaching. By building local support for parrot protection, including community-led patrols and a network of nest guardians, Fauna & Flora and partners are helping to tackle illegal trade and staying one step ahead of the poachers.

Two yellow-naped parrot chicks in a nest. Their tendency to return to the same nest site every year means breeding sites can be easy to find. Credit: Fauna & Flora

Help for hippos

The hippopotamus is among the most familiar – and conspicuous – of Africa’s megafauna. Its pocket-sized relative, the lesser-known and endangered pygmy hippo, is an entirely different matter. Nocturnal, elusive and mainly solitary, these denizens of the deep forest are seldom seen, or even heard.

Most of the world’s remaining pygmy hippos are found in Liberia. Fauna & Flora is working with local and international partners to safeguard the species in its key remaining strongholds, but tracking down these rare and reclusive mammals using traditional survey methods isn’t easy.

Joining forces with Liberia’s Forest Development Authority, we used environmental DNA (eDNA) technology pioneered by our partner NatureMetrics to collect samples from south-east Liberia’s river systems, which revealed the presence of pygmy hippos at ten sites. This crucial data has been fed into the wider national species action plan that Fauna & Flora helped develop.

Pygmy hippo. © Fauna & Flora / Bucknell University

Pygmy hippo. © Fauna & Flora / Bucknell University

The elusive pygmy hippo, caught on a camera trap during a survey in Liberia. Credit: Fauna & Flora/Bucknell University

Magnolia, you sweet thing

Highly prized for their beautiful blooms, magnolias are a firm favourite of gardening enthusiasts in the UK and beyond. Unfortunately, many of their wild relatives have been exploited to the point where they are threatened with extinction.

In the northernmost mountains of Vietnam, last stronghold of the critically endangered Magnolia grandis, much of the forest understorey has been continually cleared to make way for cardamom cultivation, and to supply the firewood needed to dry the seed pods. The removal of young saplings and seedlings prevents the regeneration of the magnolias and other threatened trees.

Fauna & Flora and our partners supported community-led patrols to protect the last remaining mature Magnolia grandis trees – down to just 250 at one point – stopping timber extraction in its tracks. We also reinforced the wild population with over 2,700 nursery-grown seedlings.

At the same time, we worked with farmers to highlight the value of this fast-growing species as canopy cover for their shade-loving cardamom crop. Many farmers are now actively protecting – and even planting out – magnolia seedlings in their plantations. Recent field surveys recorded around 750 Magnolia grandis saplings that had regenerated naturally since the project began.

Magnolia grandis in Vietnam. © Chu Xuan Canh / Fauna & Flora

Magnolia grandis in Vietnam. © Chu Xuan Canh / Fauna & Flora

Iguana be like you

The protection and international cooperation afforded to the Union Island gecko under CITES rules points the way forward for other Caribbean reptiles, including the striking Grenadines pink rhino iguana – one of two recently recognised subspecies of the Southern Antilles iguana – which is threatened by both national and international trade.

Fauna & Flora has been working with local and international partners since 2016 to protect the Grenadines pink rhino iguana not only from poaching and trafficking, but also from the invasive green iguana, a non-native species that outcompetes and hybridises with several native Caribbean iguanas. A CITES listing would be the logical next step in our collective efforts to safeguard the future of this impressive lizard.

The Grenadines pink rhino iguana is one of many Caribbean reptiles in urgent need of greater protection. Credit: Jenny Daltry

The C words

Partnership is at the heart of our work every single day of every year. Long after this latest awareness day theme has faded into history, Fauna & Flora will be banging that same drum, and focusing on what has always mattered most to us: conservation, collaboration and communities.

Yellow-naped parrot. © Petr Dolejsek / Adobe Stock

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Yellow-naped parrot. © Petr Dolejsek / Adobe Stock