Animals in crisis

Martin Wright reports on how the WWF's flagship species have faired in the past 35 years

Over the past 35 years, public concern for the fate of the world's great creatures has surged, while their numbers continue to decline, even collapse.

Each of the five animals charted here faces different threats, but the root causes are surprisingly similar: the destruction of their habitat, in the face of the fast-growing human population's demand for land; and their deliberate killing to meet human "needs" which are at best questionable - notably, use of their body parts as ornamentation and as constituents of traditional Chinese medicine.

Sustained campaigning by WWF and other organisations, coupled with practical measures on the ground, has led to some local recoveries. In very broad terms, the outlook has brightened a little for whales and elephants, while rhinos, pandas and, especially, tigers, are dangerously close to the edge.

Solutions, such as there are, lie both in helping local people to have a stake in the survival of those animals which are on their very doorstep, and in changing the attitudes - and touching the hearts - of those who consume them. Such tasks take time. Time is not on our side.

t 'Going, Going, Gone', an Independent/WWF book on Britain's threatened wildlife, written by Nicholas Schoon, is available for pounds 6.50, plus pounds 1.50 postage and packaging each copy, from 'Going, Going, Gone', Independent Offer, 91 High Street, Markyate, Herts AL3 8JG. As a launch initiative, for every copy sold the publishers Bookman will give pounds 2 towards WWF-UK's Site Safeguard Fund. Copies will be dispatched from November 11.


1,200 Giant Pandas exist

in the wild. Bamboo diebacks

are threatening starvation

WWF's "flagship species" has clung to existence by a fine thread throughout the Fund's lifetime. Back in the early 60s, reserves were seen as the answer. When the first four were declared by the Chinese in 1963, optimism prevailed that these would do the trick. Today there are 13, yet the wild Giant Panda is one of the world's most vulnerable creatures.

The Giant Panda favours a diet based almost exclusively on bamboo. This inevitably means that it has a limited habitat. They're confined to remnants of bamboo forest in the mountains of Sichuan, Gansu and Shaanxi.

Counting pandas is notoriously tricky. The latest estimate, based on spore analysis and satellite assessments, suggests there may be around 1,200 individuals. As such, they're vulnerable to the natural cycle of bamboo die-back. Every fifty years or so, swathes of bamboo forest flower, seed, and then die. When the forests were extensive, this phenomenon might even have been healthy for the pandas, spurring them to find pastures new and hence avoid risks of inbreeding. Today, it's more likely to have the opposite effect. Hundreds are thought to have died in China as a result of die-back during the 1970s.

Pandas are occasionally "rescued" (a euphemism for capture) for breeding programmes, but there has little success worldwide.


3 sub-species

of the tiger

have already

died out

Of all the world's great beasts, the tiger is closest to the edge. Caught between the hammer of poaching and the anvil of habitat loss, it faces extinction in the wild in a generation.

At the turn of the century, around 100,000 tigers roamed from Turkey to the Far East, from Siberia in the north to Bali in the south. Today perhaps 6,000 remain, over half of these are in India. Three of the tiger's eight sub-species are already extinct: the last Balinese vanished in the 40s, the Caspian disappeared in the 70s, and the Javan tiger a few years later. The South China tiger is on the brink.

Today's "flagship species" is the Bengal Tiger: an estimated 3,000 or so survive in India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. Of the rest: around 600 Sumatran tigers still live; 1,200 or so Indo-Chinese tigers exist; while the Siberian is down to a few hundred.

All are under pressure. Once hunted for sport or skins, the tiger is now poached for its powers, medicinal or mythical. They are being killed at terrifying rate. Much-trumpeted reserve programmes, like India's "Project Tiger" have largely failed to halt the killings. Laws banning the trade have proved inadequate: small wonder when a tiger skeleton is worth 10 years average wage in India.

As if this was not enough, the tiger's forest habitat is vanishing. WWF is helping local communities take an interest in the preservation of local forests, and so become the tiger's informal guardians.


There are only 600,000 African

and around 45,000 Asian

elephants left wild in the world

Over the past 30 years, there have been several reports of the imminent demise of the elephant. So far, they have all proven exaggerated. In part, this is due to a largely successful campaign by WWF and others against one of life's great inessentials - ivory. But poaching took a heavy toll, and it still goes on, despite the international ban. Elephants also need space - and in both the forests of Asia and the plains of Africa, that is a dwindling resource.

Three decades ago, African Elephants, roamed in their millions from the Sahara to the Cape. Today there are around 600,000. They have fared best in southern Africa, where powerful anti-poaching controls, combined with the elephant's value as eco-tourist lure, has seen numbers stabilise, even increase.

Elsewhere in Africa, elephants outside reserves are still being squeezed out, with a few exceptions, such as the forest elephants which roam the jungles of Gabon.

But their smaller Asian cousins are faring less well - ironically so, since the animal is honoured in mythology from Japan to India. For centuries, it was also a vital beast of burden, although mechanisation is making it redundant.

One in every five people on earth live in or near the habitat of the Asian elephant, and their numbers are doubling every 23 years. This puts them into direct competition with the remaining 45,000 wild elephants, and it's a contest in which the latter usually lose out. Around a half of Asia's elephants are in India; the rest are scattered from China to Borneo and Sumatra. Outside national parks (and sometimes inside too), their forest homes are cleared daily for agriculture and timber.

As with the rhino and the tiger, who share some of the elephant's habitat, the solution lies in bringing the locals onside. WWF is supporting imaginative development projects which help give villagers a stake in the forests' future.


Of the 11 great whale species,

7 are on the 'danger' list

The past 35 years have, on balance, been a Good Thing [sic] for whales. Today's whaling industry is a shadow of its former self, and widely reviled.

Much of the credit for this turnaround is due to WWF and other groups, which campaigned long and hard to save the world's largest mammals from near-certain extinction. In 1961, the year WWF was founded, 66,090 whales were harpooned in Antarctic waters. The story behind the record slaughter was one of sustainability.

Meanwhile, public opposition was growing, stirred by new evidence of whales' intelligence. The call to "save the whales" became a rallying cry for the general rise in environmental awareness. As Sir Peter Scott put it in 1972: "If we cannot save the whale, we have little chance of saving mankind."

By the mid-80s, the combined pressure of public opinion, coupled with alarming evidence of depleted stocks, was enough to persuade the International Whaling Commission to take drastic action. It agreed a moratorium on comm-ercial whaling in 1985.

But the years of slaughter had taken their toll. The North Atlantic Grey Whale was extinct; the Northern Right Whales hunted down to a few hundred; and of the vast Blue Whale, perhaps 500 survived out of an original population of 250,000.

Of the 11 great whale species in total, seven are listed as either endangered or vulnerable.

Suggested Topics
people And here is why...
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
voicesBy the man who has
Arsene Wenger tried to sign Eden Hazard
footballAfter 18 years with Arsenal, here are 18 things he has still never done as the Gunners' manager
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson star in The Twilight Saga but will not be starring in the new Facebook mini-movies
tvKristen Stewart and Stephenie Meyer will choose female directrs
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
William Hague
people... when he called Hague the county's greatest
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Twerking girls: Miley Cyrus's video for 'Wrecking Ball'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran performs at his Amazon Front Row event on Tuesday 30 September
musicHe spotted PM at private gig
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

QA/BA - Agile

£400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are currently seekin...

PPA Supply Teachers

£121 - £142 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Early Years, KS1 & 2 Prima...

Primary Supply Teacher

£121 - £142 per annum: Randstad Education Luton: Early Years, KS1 & 2 Prim...

Primary Supply Teacher

£121 - £142 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Primary supply teacher Hertford...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?