Amid species loss, the ‘oh my’ mammals that are doing better


Mountain gorilla and jaguar numbers are encouraging conservationists, partly because room made for their habitats is helping to ensure survival. Meanwhile, roundabouts are also serving their intended purpose – manipulating travel for greatly increased safety.

1. United States

Carmel, Indiana, has created safer, more environmentally friendly road travel by embracing roundabouts. Starting in the late 1990s, Carmel has installed 140 roundabouts and counting – more than any American city. Not only have the roundabouts become a local tourist attraction, but their success has also helped push other municipalities to make the switch.

Why We Wrote This

Scientists showed this year that extinction of plants and animals is accelerating. But the rebounding of a few high-profile vertebrates can help emphasize that saving species is possible – with concerted efforts.

The primary benefit is safety. More than 50% of serious car crashes occur at intersections, but modern roundabouts make all crashes, injuries, and deaths less likely. A recent study by the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety found injury crashes dropped by nearly 50% at 64 roundabouts in Carmel. There’s also a climate benefit to roundabouts; since drivers don’t have to stop and idle at traffic lights, vehicles burn significantly less fuel, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Studies estimate as much as a 59% decrease in vehicle emissions compared with signaled intersections. Officials also point out that roundabouts are resilient against power outages, since they don’t need electricity to operate.
The New York Times

2. Mexico

The jaguar population grew by 20% from 2010 to 2018, according to the first two censuses of the animals in Mexico.  The jaguar’s current habitat ranges from Northern Argentina through Brazil and into Central America, but for a long time, ecologists had little understanding of how many Jaguars actually lived in the Americas. The initial census in 2010 allowed researchers to develop conservation strategies that were embraced by both the government and scientists, including preserving wildlife corridors and resolving conflicts with livestock owners. Still, the National Alliance for Jaguar Conservation wasn’t expecting to see a population boost within the decade.

Henry Romero/Reuters/File
A jaguar cub is pictured at the Altiplano Zoo in Tlaxcala near Mexico City in 2019. Wild jaguars can be found as far south as northern Argentina.

Using data collected from camera traps, researchers estimate there are now 4,800 jaguars in Mexico. “This [paper] is very important,” said jaguar researcher Ronaldo Gonçalves Morato, who works in Brazil, home to the largest contiguous jaguar population. “They are connecting science with conservation plans. It can be a good model for researchers – not only working with jaguars, but all the other big cats or other species that are critically endangered.”

Mongabay, PLOS One

3. Rwanda

Rwanda has reversed its mountain gorilla decline by developing conservation solutions that also help humans. In the 1960s when Dian Fossey went to the Virunga volcanoes – home to most of the world’s mountain gorillas – there were only 254 individuals left in the wild due to poaching and habitat destruction. Today, mountain gorillas are the only great ape whose numbers are growing. Rwanda has a healthy population of more than 600, and experts say poaching is no longer an issue.

Felipe Dana/AP/File
A silverback sits at Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, where the gorilla population has more than doubled since the 1960s.

Their rebound is the result of aggressive conservation and a shift in public attitudes toward gorillas. Tourism, namely the government-regulated visits to Volcanoes National Park where guests pay $1,500 to spend an hour among the gorillas, has played a critical role. Ten percent of that money goes to neighboring districts and funds new health centers, housing projects, and community business investments such as dairy cows and knitting machines – as much as $650,000 annually per community. The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund is also employing more than 1,500 local workers, including many women, to build a new science campus. Chief park warden Prosper Uwingeli says much of his passion for gorilla conservation “comes from what they’re helping [Rwandan communities] to achieve.”
60 Minutes

4. Indonesia

With a landmark decree from the local government, the Gelek Malak Kalawilis Pasa clan in Indonesia’s West Papua province is closer to cementing its land rights. The Sorong district head recently issued a decree recognizing the community’s rights to 8,023 acres of ancestral land. This decree – a first in Sorong – is expected to strengthen the clan’s legal rights, improve its ability to manage the land, and help protect its forests from commercial exploitation. It is also an essential first step to gaining recognition from the central government.

To date, Indonesia has recognized only about 147,000 of the estimated 26 million acres of ancestral forests throughout the country, for roughly a tenth of the Indigenous communities that inhabit them. For the Kalawilis to obtain the title to its lands, the clan must request formal recognition from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry in what’s typically a costly and lengthy process. But Kalawilis head Herman Malak hopes the local decree will inspire other nearby clans to seek legal protections. “We Gelek Malak have proved that we can protect [our] customary lands and forests,” he said.

5. Russia

Russia’s forest protection service found Siberian tiger footprints in the Sakha republic for the first time in half a century, sparking hope for the endangered cat’s recovery. The tracks, which are about 6 inches long, were spotted by pilot Andrey Ivanov along a riverbank in southeastern Sakha, according to a video he recorded at the site in early November. The discovery comes weeks after tiger photographs were taken in the adjacent Khabarovsk region, near the village of Chumikan and also near the Shantar Islands. Experts assume the sightings were of the same animal. 

Vitalily Ankov/Sputnik/AP/File
A Siberian tiger creeps through the Primorsky Safari Park in Russia’s Primorsky territory. The solitary species will roam for many miles in search of food.

Once widespread throughout northern Asia, Siberian tigers – also called Amur tigers – were nearly hunted to extinction in the 20th century. They’re now a protected species in Russia, and ongoing conservation efforts have grown the tiger population in the Far East regions from 330 in 2005 to more than 600 today. “The fact that the tigers are exploring their ancestral hunting grounds indicates that the number of the northernmost tigers is not a cause for concern,” said Victor Nikiforov from the Tigrus Conservation Fund.

The Moscow Times, The Siberian Times

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