Optimism: Why the Future of Wildlife Depends on it

Saiga antelope photo by Eugeny Polonsky

Photo Credit: Eugeny Polonsky

There’s plenty of negative information out there about the (lack of) future for wildlife in today’s world. With climate change and its ill-effects already happening, the loss of more wild places caused by the explosion of human populations across continents, and a host of other factors…let’s face it, it’s easy to think, why bother?

Is it a fool’s errand then, to ask people to believe that endangered wildlife might survive if given a chance? Is it unrealistic of us—who work in wildlife conservation–to hope that our efforts to protect endangered species will actually work?

No. Absolutely not. 

While threats like poaching and habitat loss are indeed despairing, we need to remember that every single day, there are positive changes happening and victories where things once seemed impossible. The fuel behind these changes is hope. Hope brings people together and gives them courage to believe and fight for an outcome that may (in that moment) seem like an unattainable dream. 

We have hope that our planet’s wildlife can be saved, and collectively, we can leave behind a better legacy for our children and grandchildren, because the alternative is really no alternative at all. This is the belief that lies at the heart of our organization, and what spurs our 17 partners to keep fighting in spite of the challenges they face in their work. 

That is also what the Conservation Optimism Summit—falling aptly on Earth Day this weekend—is about; it’s an opportunity for conservationists to celebrate the positive, and discuss a new road map for change that builds on optimism. Conservationists from around the world, including our partners at Ewaso Lions and Saiga Conservation Alliance, will be speaking at the Summit, and sharing their stories of success.

If you’re looking for additional reasons to feel hopeful and inspired, don’t fret. Below, we’ve shared positive milestones from our partners that enumerate just why optimism makes all the difference. In fact, the survival of wildlife might well depend on it.

Save the Elephants
In a major victory for elephants last year, China announced that it would completely shut down its domestic ivory trade by the end of 2017, giving elephants a stronger chance of survival.

Grevy’s Zebra Trust
In a first ever nationwide photographic census conducted last year, called the Great Grevy’s Rally, citizen scientists did a census of Grevy’s zebras using state of the art stripe-identification software, resulting in a healthy and stable estimate of 2,350 Grevy’s zebra in Kenya. 

Thresher sharks, silky sharks, and mobula rays have all be updated to an Appendix II listing by CITES, ensuring they receive additional protections from the illegal shark fin trade and overfishing.

Global Penguin Society
In Argentina, Global Penguin Society secured protection for the feeding area of the largest Magellanic penguin colony in the world, benefitting over half a million penguins.    

Snow Leopard Conservancy
In Nepal this January, delegates from all 12 of the snow leopard range countries gathered at a a Global Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Protection Program “Stocktaking Workshop,” to discuss plans to secure 20 snow leopard “landscapes” by 2020.

Ewaso Lions
Ewaso Lions’ study area has expanded to 3,000 km—twice the size of Houston, encompassing national reserves and five community conservancies in northern Kenya. Within this ecosystem, they monitor approximately 50 lions and recorded the birth of 13 cubs in 2016.  Most importantly, their work with the communities has now led to the permanent presence of lions within community areas, with the local people now being more tolerant and accepting of lion presence. 

Painted Dog Conservancy
Painted Dog Conservancy played a key role in establishing the Hwange Conservation Coalition, which will lead to greater protection for painted dogs and other wildlife over an area of more than 6,000 square km in Zimbabwe—almost twice the size of Rhode Island.

Niassa Lion Project
Niassa Lion Project’s four livelihood programs have reached more than 200 people from across five villages—that’s close to 2,000 people. These programs include agriculture, honey and small livestock breeding, providing communities with a source of income and food security. While this is a critical step to protecting lions, the real optimism, comes from the small acts by ordinary people—like the child that told NLP she wants to be the warden of Niassa Reserve—that keep conservationists hopeful in a field that is generally about conflicting needs of animals and people.

Cheetah Conservation Fund
Cheetah Conservation Fund rescued eight orphaned cheetah cubs which they brought to their sanctuary. They have also developed an action plan for reintroducing the cubs to the wild as adults.

Andean Cat Alliance
Together with CONAF (National Forest Corporation, aka National Parks Administration) the Andean Cat Alliance members helped develop the first ever National Plan for Andean cat conservation in Chile. The plan ensures that this small, rare wildcat will be included in the action plans of all protected areas in Chile, and it provides hope for this same initiative to be replicated in the other countries were Andean cats live.

Okapi Conservation Project
Wildlife rangers supported by the Okapi Conservation Project closed 53 gold mines, causing over 15,000 miners to vacate the Okapi Wildlife Reserve. This greatly reduced the hunting of bushmeat, which along with the arrest of 113 poachers and the removal of 2,200 snares, saved many okapi and other threatened wildlife from harm.

Cheetah Conservation Botswana
Thanks to the livestock management training provided by Cheetah Conservation Botswana to farmers in local communities last year, and their livestock dog guardian program, livestock losses decreased by 76% and tolerance towards living with cheetahs increased.

Proyecto Tití 
Proyecto Tití signed agreements with 26 land owners in San Juan, Colombia to restore almost 200 acres of forest corridors that connect the National Park Los Colorados with other forest fragments in the area. Connecting these forest areas increases habitat and mobility for cotton-top tamarins and are critical for their survival. 

Saiga Conservation Alliance
Saiga Conservation Alliance played a key role in the re-designation of Saigachy Reserve as a protected area for saiga antelope and other wildlife. The reserve—covering 7,000 square km—is bigger than Yosemite and Olympic National Parks combined, and the largest protected area in Uzbekistan. It will allow saiga antelope to migrate safely to Kazakhstan, and provide important mating and calving sites. 

Spectacled Bear Conservation
A massive wildfire destroyed over 33,000 acres of forest in Peru, including three major spectacled bear populations. The team at Spectacled Bear Conservation risked their lives and worked around the clock to help extinguish the fires, saving over 100 bears in the area.

Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Program
After a devastating series of rabies and CDV outbreaks three years ago, the team at the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Program report that most of the pack females they monitor in the Bale Mountains are pregnant or have pups. They are confident that a reassessment of wolf demographics will show a recovery in their numbers.

Small Wild Cat Conservation Foundation
SWCCF expanded its partnerships with local conservationists to protect fishing cats in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Cambodia. For example, in Sri Lanka, with support from SWCCF, Small Cat Advocacy and Research accelerated efforts to reduce incidences of fishing cats being hit by cars (a major threat); they installed road-side traffic signs with fishing cat pictures urging motorists to slow down. 

Meet our conservation heroes


April 20, 2017



wildlife wildlife conservation Conservation Optimism Summit Hope in Conservation Optimism