Wins for wildlife in 2016

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Some of the planet’s most critically endangered species got some much-needed good news in 2016. Governments and advocates worldwide worked together to find ways to conserve wildlife, boost populations and reduce poaching.

Take a look at some of the progress made in the past year.

Giant pandas no longer ‘endangered’ but still ‘vulnerable’

Two panda cubs cuddling (@ AP Images)
The wild panda population increased by nearly 17 percent over a 10-year period. (© AP Images)

A leading international group in September reclassified the giant panda as “vulnerable,” moving the animal off its “endangered” list, thanks to decades of conservation efforts, new research and efforts by the Chinese government to protect this beloved black-and-white animal.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature cautioned that “it is critically important that these protective measures are continued.” The group also warned that climate change could destroy the habitat of bamboo, the animal’s favorite food, reversing any gains.

Elephants can rebound with anti-poaching measures

Two elephants (© AP Images)
Africa’s savanna elephant population plummeted by about 30 percent over a 10-year period. (© AP Images)

While the number of African savanna elephants is rapidly declining, anti-poaching regulations and new laws are helping to protect the elephant and, in some places, increase populations.

Uganda, for example, now counts almost 5,000 elephants after having fewer than 800 in the 1980s. The elephant population has doubled since 2003 in the W Transborder Park, a protected area shared by Niger, Burkina Faso and Benin.

The United States in July 2016 enacted a near-total ban on the domestic trade in elephant ivory. This effort will restrict demand in one of the largest markets for illegal ivory.

Wildlife tech gets an upgrade

Laptop computer on table with images of elephants on screen; two people in background (Woodland Park Zoo)
Teammates work on an anti-trafficking app during a hackathon at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. (Woodland Park Zoo)

2016 showed conservation’s high-tech side. International competitions, such as the Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge and the Zoohackathon, brought together the best and brightest to find creative solutions to the biggest challenges facing wildlife.

Among the ideas: an app for smartwatches that allows users to report wildlife trafficking, and forensic tools that link a poacher caught with a rhino horn with a specific rhino DNA, thus making it easier to prosecute the poacher.

Pangolin patrol

Pangolin carrying baby on its tail (© AP Images)
Poachers falsely claim that pangolins’ scales can be powerful medicines. (© AP Images)

At an October meeting of the global endangered species convention known as CITES, governments banned all trade in pangolins, the world’s most trafficked mammal.

At the same conference, the popular African grey parrot also won protection from global trade. The birds are prized as pets because they can mimic human language.