Future of the Environment

The golden mole and 4 other species that have come back from the brink

A bald eagle sits in a tree in the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve near Haines, Alaska October 8, 2014.

The Forum's New Nature Economy Report II proposes solutions to reverse nature loss and reduce decline. Image: REUTERS/Bob Strong

Emma Charlton
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Future of the Environment

This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate
  • De Winton's golden mole was feared extinct but has been observed in the wild.
  • While the number of threatened species is increasing, there are a few bright spots and stories of several coming back from the brink of disappearance.
  • Environmental risks will characterize the next decade, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2024.

Many of us will have learned about the dodo in school.

The flightless bird from Mauritius that ceased to exist in the 1600s has become a symbol of extinction – of species that disappear from Earth, usually due to the impact of humans or environmental changes.

Stories like that of the dodo and countless others underline how fragile biodiversity is, and also how crucial it is for the resilience and stability of natural systems. Protecting and promoting biodiversity is one focus of the World Economic Forum’s work, with its Global Risks Report 2024 highlighting how environmental risks will characterize the next decade.

Biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse is among the top five risks facing the world over the next 10 years, the report shows, with environmental risks making up four of the top 10 long-term risks. The Forum’s New Nature Economy Report II sets out a range of solutions to help reverse nature loss and pull us back from the brink.

Ranking on the risks over the short and long term.
Biodiversity loss is among the top risks facing the world. Image: World Economic Forum

While the number of threatened species is increasing, there are a few bright spots and stories of animals returning from the edge of extinction:

Discover

How does the World Economic Forum encourage biological diversity?

1. De Winton’s golden mole

The golden mole – not seen since 1937 and feared extinct – was rediscovered near Port Nolloth in South Africa, according to UK newspaper The Guardian.

Blind and relying on sensitive hearing, it bolts at ground vibrations. Rediscovered after an 86-year absence, by conservationists who had help from a trained dog, rediscovery of the mole is a milestone in the search for lost species.

2. Scimitar-horned oryx

The Emirates Animal Welfare Society collaborated with global conservation organizations to reintroduce this antelope, which was extinct in the wild.

The initiative has led to the birth of more than 500 oryx calves outside of captivity in Chad, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature has downlisted the species on the Red List, recognizing the establishment of a self-sustaining population.

3. Golden lion tamarin

In the 1970s, the golden lion tamarin was facing imminent extinction, with 200 individuals left in the wild.

Conservation efforts have helped the population to rebound to around 4,800. This included rebuilding forest areas, vaccinating against yellow fever and reintroducing zoo-bred primates into the wild.

4. Bald eagle

The national symbol of the United States, Bald eagle numbers dropped to around 417 nesting pairs in 1963, pushed down by hunting, habitat loss and the impact of the insecticide DDT.

The decline prompted the Bald Eagle Protection Act in 1940, and following the ban on DDT in 1972, recovery programmes have restored populations.

5. Black-footed ferret

This carnivorous mammal species – once believed extinct due to habitat loss – was rediscovered on a Wyoming ranch in 1981.

A captive breeding programme and habitat restoration helped to restore numbers in the wild, however, the black-footed ferret remains endangered, with ongoing threats such as habitat loss, plague, and human intolerance.

Role of science

Science is supercharging the conversation around extinction, with advances in genetics and innovation raising questions about whether it is possible to bring extinct species back to life.

Geneticist Andrew Pask and de-extinction company Colossal Biosciences are working on reintroducing a species that’s been extinct since the 1920s – the wolf-like thylacine – using advanced genetics.

Charts on the number of animals species on the IUCN Red List.
The number of animal species threatened by extinction is rising. Image: Statista

The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List states more than 44,000 animal species are currently threatened – 28% of all assessed species.

While science can play a role in helping preserve certain species, there is also a need for greater emphasis on biodiversity conservation and more coordinated global efforts to protect endangered species.

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Related topics:
Future of the EnvironmentNature and Biodiversity
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