10 Animal Species That Have Come Back From the Brink of Extinction

Every animal lover out there knows just how important it is to preserve the many animal species on the planet. And while plenty of attention and effort is made nowadays, that wasn’t always the case. According to records from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), about 881 different animal species are now extinct since the year 1,500. It’s a shockingly high number, and for many species, they too are teetering on the brink of extinction.

What’s not always understood is the ripple effect extinction can have. Each species exists within the chain of nature and if it’s removed, it affects many other species as well as the flora, fauna, environment, and even humans.

As National Endangered Species Day takes place on May 17 this is a perfect time to not just be mindful of those species on the brink, but also those species who have come back from the brink of extinction thanks to extraordinary efforts. Here are 10 species that have managed to claw their way back from total extinction.

Spix’s Macaw

Spix's macaw bird - native from Brazil.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Danny Ye

While you may be quick to think of land-based animals, birds are just as much at risk. The Spix’s Macaw is a perfect story that has a perfect ending. Native to Brazil, this is the bird that was made popular thanks to the animated family-friendly movie Rio, released in 2011. It is known for its brilliant blue color, making it easy to spot. Some even credit the movie itself for helping to increase awareness and turn around the Spix’s Macaw numbers.

These birds were first discovered in 1819 but by the turn of the century, they were all but wiped off the planet. All that remained were a couple of dozen in private collections, thus a captive breeding program was created. The program has been such as success that in 2022 eight were released into the wild in hopes their numbers would continue to rebound.

Indian Wild Tiger

Indian tiger male with first rain, wild animal in the nature habitat, Ranthambore, India.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Ondrej Prosicky

Tigers are the kind of animal that captures the attention of pretty much anyone, but they’ve faced issues with hunting, habitat destruction, and more. Things got so bad for the Indian Wild Tiger that there were just 3,200 left in the wild in 2010.

The government stepped in and began a program called Project Tiger with just one goal – to bring the animal back from the brink of extinction. By the year 2015, the government’s efforts had increased the wild tiger population by 33%.

Grey Wolf

wolf in snow, attractive winter scene with wolf
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Vlada Cech

For many the wolf is considered a majestic creature. They are powerful, smart, and excellent hunters so it’s hard to imagine they would ever be on the brink of extinction. Once again, humans are to blame for this animal almost being wiped off the planet, as they hunted the grey wolf en masse. They used to have a population of more than two million but were wiped out almost completely.

Today conservation efforts continue and it is estimated that there are about 4,500 grey wolves in the United States. An even better sign is that numbers continue to rise yearly.

Brown Pelican

A Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis) appears to be surfing on one foot as it balances on a rock - Venice, Florida
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Brian Lasenby

It took until the 1970s for people to stand up and take notice of the brown pelicans critically endangered numbers. Once conservationists took over it was all positive news from there and in 2009 they were delisted from endangered.

What’s shocking is that the brown pelican didn’t almost go extinct once, but twice – that’s how on the brink it was.

Red Kite

Red kite (Milvus milvus) flying in Spanish Pyrenees, Vilagrassa, Catalonia, Spain
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Rudmer Zwerver

Many may be unfamiliar with the Red Kite, it’s a raptor that is native to the UK. It has pretty much been gone since 1871-1879, and by 1903 the only ones still in the wild were a few in Wales.

Unlike other animals on the brink of extinction that responded well to conservation efforts, the red kite took a lot more time. Efforts were slow to take effect, spanning several decades before success slowly began. Today they can be found in specific areas of the UK, and the hope is that they repopulate in additional areas.

Sea Otter

Mother sea otter with pup on her belly
Image Credit: Shutterstock / MODpix

We can’t create a list of animals that almost went extinct without mentioning the otter. These are often one of the most popular exhibits at zoos, as these creatures seem to love having fun. At its lowest point in 1911, there were only about 2,000 otters left in the wild, whereas now that population is closer to 100,000.

Giant Panda

Mother Panda and her baby Panda are eating bamboo
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Daniel X D

China is home to the Giant Panda, perhaps the cutest creature on the list. There’s something so fun about its facial expression, probably thanks to its unique color pattern. Giant Pandas were almost declared extinct in the 1980s when only about 1,100 of them existed. This is a massive decline compared to the tens of thousands that once roamed.

What’s interesting about the Giant Panda is that its plight has become so talked about and recognized that the Panda has now become the international symbol for world wildlife conservation efforts. Today these stunning animals are no longer considered endangered and as of 2014 it was estimated close to 2,000 are alive in the wild. That number could be even bigger now.

Blue Iguana

Extremely Rare Blue Iguana (Cyclura lewisi) is protected in the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, where you can find the real natural habitat of this surprising creature.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Blue Sky imagery

As you may have guessed from its name, the blue iguana is unique thanks to its blue coloring. This one is native to the Cayman Islands only, making it extremely rare. Unfortunately, because its habitat was disturbed by humans and their growth, it started to dwindle in numbers. By the year 2002, it is estimated that only about 15 were alive in the wild.

The fact it has been brought back from extinction is thanks to a student at Cambridge University who decided to study the blue iguana and create a breeding program in 1990. By the year 2018, the breeding program had become so successful that it released its 1,000th blue iguana into its native habitat.

Eurasian Beaver

Eurasian beaver at dusk. Looking for food in the tall grass.
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Robert Adami

Beavers, specifically the Eurasian Beaver that is native to the UK, also teetered on the edge of extinction. Humans were to blame for the species almost going extinct, as they were a favorite animal of hunters thanks to their thick and ultra-soft fur. By the 16th century, they wiped from the UK, making for a sad ending.

Conservationists took over and started to fight for the re-entry of the beaver not just because they are important in animal chains of nature, but because they also help reduce flooding, restore wetlands, and more. Finally, in 2013, wild beavers appeared on the River Otter. More data was collected and the powers that be realized just how important they were. Reintroduction and building back up of the species continues today.

North American Bison

American bison in Grasslands National Park
Image Credit: Shutterstock / Krista Marie T

Did you know that at one point there were 30 million bison that roamed across North America? It’s a shocking number to think about, but that was the case before the European settlers arrived. Once the settlers arrived and began colonization the bison population quickly began to drop. The bison dropped to mere hundreds in Canada and the United States by the 1800s.

It took both countries making dedicated conservation efforts to turn things around and now the population is close to one million between the wood bison and plains bison. It’s nowhere near the population it once was, but things have turned around dramatically.

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