Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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9-Aug-2007

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Successful conservation stories from across the globe



Black-footed ferrets are happily roaming in the Wyoming wilderness again thanks to conservation efforts.

A trio of new studies published in Science this week provides examples of successful conservation efforts on three continents.

To maintain a healthy environment, researchers and law makers throughout the world are working to bring back populations of animals that are dying off and to stop precious ecosystems including forests and waterways that are being taken over by development.

Black-footed ferrets in the U.S.

After a tough beginning, North America’s most endangered mammal species is successfully breeding and repopulating its Wyoming homeland again, according to a new report. The population of black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) in the wild was down to seven when they were captured for a captive breeding program in 1981.

More than 220 captive-born ferrets were reintroduced to the Shirley Basin in Wyoming between 1991 and 1994, but disease killed many and by 1997only five of these ferrets were found in the wild. Monitoring was only occasional after that, but in 2003, researchers counted 52 black-footed ferrets and that number continues to grow. Population was up to 223 in 2006. Researcher Martin Grenier reports that early survival is key to this carnivore’s population health, unlike other endangered species in which later adult survival that is most important.

Rare European Birds

The European Union has successfully increased the population of rare and vulnerable birds, as well as the amount of land set aside to protect them. In 1979, 15 countries in the European Union agreed to a plan to protect or improve the habitat of a list of rare and vulnerable birds.

Results of a census analyzed by Paul F. Donald and British colleagues show that between 1990 and 2000 the European population of the listed bird species increased in comparison to those not on the list. Researchers also found that this occurred only in the European populations – the increase in population was not found for these species outside of the European Union.

Countries and regions are increasingly joining to conserve global resources, so this first measurable success shows promise for future international conservation attempts and provides processes for evaluating progress. About 20 regional or global conservation agreements are underway.

Saving Peruvian Rain Forest

High-resolution satellite monitoring of the rain forest in Peru shows that land-use and conservation policies are reducing the rate of deforestation. Tropical forests are important to world ecology and climate, but they are always at risk from human development. Paulo J.C. Oliviera and a group of colleagues improved an automated satellite and found that between 1999 and 2005, about 1300 square kilometers of forest were cut down per year. The good news is that only 2 percent of that occurred in areas set aside to preserve the rain forest.

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The first two studies appear in the 10 August issue of the journal Science; the Peruvian forest story appeared online in the 9 August of Science Express.