Articles, Blog

7 Species That Were Saved From Extinction


Humans have had a pretty big influence on
planet Earth and on the things that live on it. And not all of that influence has been positive. Extinction rates, for example, are thought
to be a thousand times higher with humans around than they would be without us. But not all endangered species are headed
the way of the dodo or the thylacine. Some are actually making a comeback, thanks
to conservation and research efforts around the world. Let’s start with a species that’s been
brought back from the brink of extinction: the black footed ferret. Black-footed ferrets are specialized prairie-dog hunters, which make up around 90% of their diet. But American farmers weren’t quite so fond
of prairie dogs, since they dug up the soil and made their fields less productive. So, throughout the twentieth century, prairie
dogs were exterminated whenever possible. Without prairie dogs, the black-footed ferrets
were left with very little to eat, and their populations fell catastrophically. In 1998 the species was classified as “Extinct
in the Wild” on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. Luckily, there were still some ferrets in
captivity. These ferrets were used to reintroduce the
species to places in North America where prairie dogs still thrive. And now, black-footed ferrets are back to
“Endangered” status, which is not great, but it’s better than extinct! Not all reintroduction attempts worked, though. Some ferrets succumbed to diseases spread
by other species, like canine distemper virus, which affects dogs as well as wildlife like
raccoons and foxes; and sylvatic plague, a bacterial infection that mainly affects rodents. Others were eaten. But researchers are on the case! They’ve developed a special ferret-friendly
vaccine for canine distemper virus, and are working on an oral vaccine for sylvatic plague. In 2012, the world said farewell to Lonesome
George, the very last Pinta Island tortoise. The Pinta Island tortoises may be lost forever,
but around a dozen other closely related Galapagos tortoise species are doing much better these
days. Galapagos tortoises were well adapted for
their tropical island environment, but they were not prepared for the arrival of humans
and the other mammals we brought with us. The tortoises were so delicious and easy to
catch that sailors would actually stack them up below deck as a food reserve. People also introduced goats that devastated
tortoise habitats, and pigs and rats that devoured their eggs and babies. Then, in 1959, the Galapagos Islands were
established as a national park. People started trying to restore habitats
for native species. They got rid of the rats and the goats, and worked on controlling other invasive species, like fire ants and brambles. Meanwhile, captive breeding programs produced
more giant tortoises. Most of the tortoises on rat-infested islands
were old. And they were too big for the rodents to harm
directly, but their eggs were destroyed year after year. Thankfully, tortoises are long-lived and can
reproduce well into old age. They were bred carefully to avoid inbreeding,
and now Galapagos tortoise numbers are crawling back up. DDT was a substance that seemed so promising
at first. It was a super effective insecticide, mainly
used for killing off mosquitoes, and was used a lot in the mid-20th century. It even won its discoverer a Nobel Prize. But DDT turned out to be a big problem for
some species that we did want to keep around, like bald eagles and peregrine falcons. DDT is a stable compound, so it isn’t easily
processed or excreted by living things. The toxin builds up in insects’ bodies — even the ones it doesn’t kill. Animals that eat insects need to eat a lot
of them, and with every insect, they got an extra dose of DDT. The animals that ate those animals got even
more DDT, and the DDT concentration accumulated up the food chain. Meat and fish-eating birds like bald eagles,
which are at the top of the food chain, suffered unexpected and deadly consequences. DDT thinned their eggshells, making them more
likely to crack while being incubated. Combined with shooting, lead poisoning and
habitat destruction, bald eagle numbers took a really big hit. At one point, there were only 500 nesting
pairs left in the lower 48 US states. But once it was clear how bad DDT was, it
was banned in the US in 1972 and then worldwide. Gradually, the pesticide got broken down in
the environment, and the eggshells got back to their full strength again. Numbers still aren’t as high as they once
were, but overall, they’re on the rise! Imagine a dumpy green owl the size of a small
turkey, and you might be picturing something like the kākāpō! But this eccentric bird is actually a species
of nocturnal flightless parrot. Kākāpō were once abundant in New Zealand
forests, but they were ravaged by invasive rats and stoats brought in by nineteenth century
Western settlers. They’d never evolved a fear of or defense
against mammalian predators, and until recently the species was down to around 50 birds. But a conservation group called Kākāpō
Recovery are on a mission to bring the bird back to safe numbers. The birds’ slow, gentle nature may have
gotten them in trouble in the first place, but it’s made their conservation easier! Since Kākāpō now live on just three predator-free
islands, researchers can monitor every member of the species. They’ve learned a lot about the bird’s
natural behavior, like breeding habits and food choices. Numbers are now rising, and in 2016, more
than 30 Kākāpō chicks were born between the 128 adults. But with such a population bottleneck, it’s
not clear whether there’s enough genetic diversity left to keep the species healthy
in the long-term. So, to find out, Kākāpō recovery are crowdfunding
the first ever species-wide genome sequence. Having DNA data from every living Kākāpō
could help us learn more about issues like poor fertility and low vitamin D levels in
many birds. Analyzing their genomes could determine whether
these are genetic conditions, which could be vital for keeping this bizarre bird from
extinction. Historically, whales like the humpback have
been hunted for meat, oil and blubber. Whales are slow breeders and babies can take
years to reach maturity. So as demand increased, the population couldn’t
replace itself, and numbers fell. Then, in 1967, biologist Roger Payne discovered
humpback whale song – drones, whoops, and clicks produced by males. Suddenly, everyone was talking about these
complex sounds and the creatures that sang them – the sounds were even incorporated
into pop music! Around the same time, conservation efforts
to stop whaling took off. Campaigns became more vocal, and people piled
onto boats that traveled out to stop the harpooning. In 1982, countries around the world voted
to ban commercial whaling, and the ban has allowed many whale species to recover, including
the humpback. Back in the 1980s, humpback whales were considered
endangered. But since then, their rating has improved
to “Least Concern”,which is the best available spot. Wollemi pines were only discovered in 1994, but they’ve been around for a really long time. Close relatives of these trees, and possibly
even this species itself, are thought to go all the way back to the time of the dinosaurs. When botanists visited the only Australian
woodland where wild Wollemi pine grew, they found that the trees’ age distribution was
super weird. It’s like finding a human village where
everyone was either a senior or a toddler, and you’d wonder where everyone aged in between was! That’s something that’s still being investigated. But the single population was a more pressing
concern. It would only take one major forest fire to
wipe out the entire species, so they needed another home. While reintroducing Wollemi pines to new areas
in 2012, they learned a lot about the plants’ preferences for warm, well-lit places, which
seemed to keep away fungal rot and allow them to grow better. Conserving and studying trees so similar to
those from prehistoric times could teach us a lot about life in dinosaur-filled forests. Now that the trees are safer from extinction,
you can even buy a Wollemi pine to use as Christmas tree! Sea otters are almost like aquatic teddybears,
they are all cute and floofy. But their fuzziness came with a price: Their fur is among the densest in the animal
kingdom, and was highly sought after by people in the early 1900s. At one point, the species plummeted to just
a few small colonies. But sea otters are now a protected species,
and use of their fur has been banned. The species has recovered significantly, although
there have been some setbacks from things like habitat loss and oil spills. And the benefits go beyond the sea otters
themselves. Bringing them back has had a positive cascade
effect on their whole ecosystem. Sea otters are keystone species, meaning their
presence and activities have more positive effects than you’d expect, given their numbers. In this case, they control populations of
sea urchins that otherwise wreak havoc on the kelp that supports much of their ecosystem. Kelp is a seaweed that forms huge underwater
forests. Each massive strand is tethered to the seafloor
with a single attachment. Sea urchins feed on kelp tethers, chewing
through them until they snap. The kelp, and everything living on them, floats
away, leaving a flat, barren seascape. But sea otters control sea urchin populations,
allowing kelp forests to thrive. Now that there are more otters around, their
ecosystems are more stable. So, human activity has definitely had a negative
impact on a lot of other species, and it’s often difficult to undo that damage. But for these species, at least, we’ve been
able to help. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow,
and thanks especially to all of our patrons on Patreon who protect this show from extinction. If you want to help us keep making videos
like this, just go to patreon.com/scishow. And don’t forget to go to youtube.com/scishow
and subscribe.

100 Comments

  1. CaptainMcAwesomepan Author

    If you've ever wanted to see Mark Carwardine have his head 'made love to' by a cheeky male Kakapo while Stephen Fry narrates and watches on bemusedly, search "Last chance to see kakapo" in youtube. It's something magical.

    Reply
  2. M & M Author

    I wonder what would happen if we all killed ourselves. And by that I mean all humans. Or even better: We somehow make ourselves wild, not too intellygent animals again and if another animal becomes the next "human" we will be in zoos and stuff LOL

    Reply
  3. ReverseHigh5er Author

    I really enjoy having Olivia on the Scishow team, but I would like to point out one thing she could improve on. She tends to "scoop" her voice in phrases, like she's asking a question, and while that's okay in small parts, there's a bit of a pattern that makes her difficult to listen to in long videos like this.

    Reply
  4. The Rational Rant Author

    Compared to the over 200 species a day that we drive to near extinction, 7 really doesn't matter. We are by far the most omnicidal species on the planet.

    Reply
  5. SlyPearTree Author

    I really wish we could do safe experiments on ecosystems. Like lets remove the sea otters, press fast forward and see what the oceans are like in 10 years, 100 years, or even a 1000 years. Rewind, Undo and try something else.

    Reply
  6. Jonathan Stiles Author

    OH FUCKING NO! WE ALMOST ACCIDENTALLY FUCKING KILLED THE FUCKING BALD EAGLE! HOW COULD FUCKING PATRIOTS BE FUCKING PATRIOTIC WITHOUT THE MOST PATRIOTIC FUCKING ANIMAL ON THE FUCKING PLANET?! MURICA WOULD BE FUCKING RUINED!

    Reply
  7. Ken O Author

    Can we bring back extinct types of fruit? like the bananas people used to eat in the 1950s? Supposedly they were much tastier.  Do we even know what other types of food are no longer available due to extinction? Can we find the seeds for some of these, or cells for some type of DNA splicing, cloning or cross breeding?

    Reply
  8. Michael Kaplan Author

    Why did humans and basically most of life as we know it evolved to see the specifclly the "visible light"? what kind of biological advantage it has?

    Reply
  9. Darticus the Great Author

    6:12 Not exactly pop, and it was like 10 years later, but ELO's "The Whale" is an excellent piece of instrumental music that incorporated whalesong!

    Reply
  10. Zachary McCoy Author

    I've tried on three different videos. I mean this as nicely as I can say it, but I cannot watch videos with this girl for some reason. Something about her is really annoying… Am I the only one though? I much prefer Michael and Hank.

    Reply
  11. JayneCobb88 Author

    why not talk about plains elk, mule deer and bison? All examples of animals saved from extinction by conversational hunting programs or farming?

    Reply
  12. Orilia Author

    The rats responsible for the decline of many native species, including Kakapos, were brought to NZ by Maori, not Western explorers. They were pacific rats, and were larger and could swim further. The Maori also killed and ate many of the native species into extinction, as well as bring pigs and dogs, which decimated native forests. 150 years later, Western explorers discovered NZ, 250 years after that they settled in NZ as well, and immediately started conservation efforts to prevent more species from dying off. Unfortunately they didn't know enough about these bird species to keep them alive in captivity, and a lot of mistakes were made, but it is thanks to their early efforts to stop Moari killing off more species that we still have many bird species around today.
    Unfortunately that hard work was undone by some poor decisions to introduce stoats, possums, deer, goats, and rabbits into the wild for sport hunting, and the fur trade.

    Reply
  13. Pingo Pong Author

    she kept saying that people brought rats over which caused the population to decrease but I don't understand who would carry rats around with them to new areas

    Reply
  14. r3conwoo Author

    The Whales are an intelligent species whom are in telepathic contact with aliens. The aliens secretly petitioned the world's governments to end commercial whaling on behalf of the whales.

    Reply
  15. Lucarius1 Author

    It's refreshing to find out that's humans finally seem to wake up and try to reverse and prevent any further damage to the earth. I just hope it's not too late.

    Reply
  16. Luboman411 Author

    Listen to 7:50. Does she say "cute and floofy"??? OMG, she does! She doesn't know how to pronounce "fluffy"! That's the first time I've ever heard an English-speaker not know how to say "fluffy"…

    Reply
  17. Herocrates0101 Hello again from rural New Hampshire Author

    Hello from rural New Hampshire. About the Black Footed Ferret; There was a wild population left on a ranch in Wyoming. National Geographic got permission to observe them. They managed to introduce not only human flu but canine distemper from their dogs. Decimating the last wild population.
    I read the article in National Geographic. Shame on them.

    Reply
  18. Minda Carpenter Author

    One of my school science books actually claimed that the DDT study was falsified. To be fair those books also claim CFC weren't bad for the ozone layer, that global warming wasn't happening at all, and that evolution a conspiracy so I already knew they were full of BS.

    Reply
  19. A8HBU Author

    Yeah the Kakapo is great….until you get back from a day snowboarding and notice they've ripped off nearly every component on the outside of your car that wasn't bolted/welded on.

    Reply
  20. Aaron Slater Author

    Now that's a great way to sell a conservation of a species; genome mapping. Not only does it contribute to saving the animal but the first total genome mapping would be a major breakthrough for genetics as a whole.

    Reply
  21. Robin Chesterfield Author

    Oh, the Kakapo!–THAT'S the bird in "Last Chance to See" that they have to go on this huge super-careful long expedition to even maybe get a glimpse of, and even then it was only a nest and not a live kakapo. They reproduce insanely slowly and elaborately, and not very often, since they had–past tense –no natural predators. UnTIL…

    Edit: I'm also curious now what the hell pop music had humpback whalesong in it. 😛

    Reply
  22. typacsk Author

    You know, you guys could do an entire video on "Species that Depend on Prairie Dog Colonies." Ferrets, burrowing owls, badgers, mountain plovers…

    …Yes, I live in Wyoming. Yes, I know I'm biased. What of it? 😉

    Reply
  23. Señor Payaso Author

    2:15 an arguably more important reason for stacking them has been mentioned a lot : They stored a large amount of fresh water at a point in time when keeping water fresh for long trips was a huge problem.

    The only information i can find on what they tasted like only says how much better they tasted than other foods 😂 goddamnit now I'm curious 🤔🤔🤔

    Reply
  24. Andi de Jager Author

    I cant wait for the day when I see a SciShow video talking about how Aye-Ayes have been saved from the brink of extinction. In fact, there was a time when people thought they were extinct. I love them.

    Reply
  25. Georgi Georgiev Author

    This goes to show how effective humans can be at preserving wildlife, provided we want to do so. Sadly, very few people recognize the damge they do on a regular basis. Please, recycle!

    Reply
  26. Kit Kat Author

    Humans are so stupid that we don't know that we can't live on this planet without wildlife and plant life, we'll make ourselves go extinct from pure stupidity.

    Reply
  27. Let's try to use real science, okay? Author

    I have enjoyed sea otters many times while fishing on the coast of California south of San Francisco. I was pleased to see them north of where they were supposed to have returned to, indicating that they were in fact recovering in the wild. Several times I witnessed them using rocks to open mussels and clams. I have also seen families of river otters while fishing along the Sacramento River west of Chico, CA. The adults of this species exceed six feet from nose to tip of tail and are absolutely amazing to see swim past only 20 feet away.

    Reply
  28. draconiusultamius Author

    What about the Lorde Howe island stick insect? A big stickbug, which was classified as extinct until 24 individuals were discovered on a single bush? I've always resonated with their success story, because they're not the typical fluffy, cute, or iconic animals that get all the attention.

    Reply
  29. Alex Smith Author

    In the case of the Wollemi pine, Wollemi is pronounced Wollem-I (as in “eye”) rather than Wollem-EE. How do I know? I live near the Wollemi National Park and am a regular visitor. I have not seen the one original stand.of the pines, though, as its location is not commonly known and I believe that access requires good rock climbing skills.

    Reply
  30. Laso Tahir Author

    Many animals are increasing in numbers like Wolves, Tigers, Rhinos, Brown bears, Giant Panda, Bald eagle, Californian condor, Californian sea lion, Steller sea lion, Many seal species, and kangaroo.
    However despide these optimistic news there are some animals that whose population must be stablized and increased like some decreasing specieass like orangutan, Leopard, Cheetah, Lion, many cat species, Giraffes, Gorilla, Pangolins, most of the frogs, many lizards species, sea turtles.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *