Bison, beavers are making a comeback, says new European report

A new report released Thursday describes the success stories of some 18 mammal and 19 bird species that have made comebacks in Europe.

Michael Sohn/AP
A newborn bison stands next to its mother at their enclosure in the zoo in Berlin. Bison have made a major comeback since being hunted almost to extinction around 100 years ago, according to a new report on Europe's conservation success stories.

A new report released Thursday describes the success tales of some 18 mammal and 19 bird species that have made comebacks in Europe.

The paper, a collaborative project from the Zoological Society of London, BirdLife International, and the European Bird Census Council, provides a comprehensive overview of the status of selected European species that have resurged across the continent since about 1960. The goal, the scientists say, is to identify which conservationist strategies have worked, and why.

“Wildlife will fairly quickly bounce back if we allow it to – this report shows that,” writes Frans Schepers, managing director of Rewilding Europe, in the paper. Rewilding Europe, a Dutch conservationist group, commissioned the report in 2011.

The authors of the report caution that, on the whole, we are still living in an age of extinctions. Europe’s biodiversity is decreasing. But the authors say that highlighting conservationism’s success, and assessing just how and why certain efforts worked, is a productive step in future conservation efforts. Doing so, they say, supplies possible templates for what might herald eventual good news, too, for Europe’s still-threatened animals.

The beaver is Europe’s greatest success tale, at least by number. The buck-toothed rodent has rebounded from just 1,200 individuals as of about 1900 – most of the animals had been turned into pelts and caps – to about 337,500 individuals this year, according to the report. The Eurasian beaver, the second largest rodent in the world (after the capybara), builds the all-important natural dams that keep the Continent’s water ecosystems in good health, as well as furnishes a small but lucrative swath of the European tourism sector.

But a close runner-up to the beaver is the bison. Europe’s largest herbivore has increased in number almost 3,000 percent since 1960, after it was hunted almost to extinction about 100 years earlier. The researchers attributed the bounce-back to captive breeding programs, beginning in 1952, that later turned into vast relocation efforts.

Other mammal success stories include the gray seal, the Pyrenean ibex, and the brown bear. Europe’s resurgent bird groups include the pink-footed goose, the white-headed duck, and the Spanish imperial eagle.

Translocations and reintroductions – or, moving species to zones identified as conducive to the animal’s success – were the most successful conservation strategies, the researchers reported.

Of the species studied, just one is still declining in number: the Iberian lynx. The wild cat is the world’s most endangered feline species, numbering just about 200, even though about $118 million in funding has been marshaled toward its protection since 1994.

This summer, a team of researchers reported that current conservation efforts targeting the lynx would buy the predator just 50 years more time on this planet. That’s because climate change is predicted to outpace efforts to relocate the cat to areas where its food source, the hare, is expected to be more populous, a point emphasizing that future relocation efforts must take into account climate shifts.

The new paper comes just a day before the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is expected to release its highly anticipated report on climate change.

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