World Wildlife Day allows us a moment to reflect on the beautiful flora and fauna that make up our ecosystems. It is also a chance to reflect on the many risks that face the natural world and how we can come together and protect them for years to come. This year, World Wildlife Day is celebrating the theme of “recovering key species for ecosystem restoration” which draws attention to the many critically endangered species and potential conservation solutions that allow for the revival of the flora and fauna that are so important in our world.

In the spirit of recovering species, I wanted to celebrate the animal species that have made comebacks within the past few years, changing endangerment statuses, or receiving the recognition they deserve with research improvements and protection efforts.


It is the year of the tiger and the year that we can celebrate the many accomplishments that this species is achieving! In 2010, the tiger population was dwindling at just 3,200, increasing the urge for leaders from 13 countries to come together and create a plan to revive the tiger population. The ultimate goal was to double the number of tigers in the wild by 2022, the next Chinese Year of the Tiger.

“Partnering with the 13 range country governments and other organizations, WWF played a critical role in creating a shared vision for tiger conservation by committing to the same goal. Known as TX2, this is probably the most ambitious global recovery effort ever undertaken for a single species and a significant turning point for tiger conservation.” – World Wildlife Fund

Tigers have made a comeback in 12 ways since the origin of the TX2 plan. These include connecting tigers across borders, community-based conservation, tackling the illegal trade of tigers, their parts, and products, expanding tiger range, moving tigers to new homes, rewilding, supporting rangers, human-tiger coexistence, restoring tiger habitat, tackling the snaring crisis, employing conservation tools, and sustainable financing. Take a closer look at each of the successes within these areas.

A mother tiger (Krishna, T-19) and her cub. Ranthambore National Park, India

© Souvik Kundu / WWF

Giant Pandas

The iconic logo of WWF is a giant panda, constituting it as a symbol of all endangered species that would be able to thrive if permitted the range and natural environment of their origin. The inspiration for the WWF logo came from Chi-Chi, a giant panda that was living at the London Zoo in 1961, the same year WWF was created. WWF’s founders were aware of the need for a strong, recognizable symbol that would overcome all language barriers.

The giant panda has been making great strides over the past couple of years. Back in 2016, WWF announced that this great species was no longer endangered. It has transitioned into “vulnerable” meaning that it’s a species that faces a high risk of extinction compared to “endangered” indicating a very high risk of extinction. China pushed back on this status change in 2016 in fear that people would stop further pushing for giant pandas’ conservation work. However, in 2021, they officially agreed on the status change and deemed giant pandas as vulnerable. 

Black-footed Ferrets

The black-footed ferret, also known as the American polecat or prairie dog hunter, is a species of mustelid native to central North America. It lives in the Northern Great Plains region and is the only ferret species native to North America. At one point, they were thought to be globally extinct. Over the past couple of decades, federal agencies, zoos, Native American tribes, conservation organizations, and private landowners have been making efforts to revive black-footed ferret populations.

Black-footed ferrets (Mustela nigripes) family group being prepared for release. Captive breeding facility, Colorado, USA

© / Shattil & Rozinski / WWF

They are known as one of the most endangered mammals in North America. However, recovery efforts have helped restore the black-footed ferret population to nearly 300 animals across North America. Their recovery in the wild signifies the health of the grassland ecosystem which they depend on to survive. Although great strides have been made to recover the black-footed ferret, habitat loss and disease remain key threats to this highly endangered species.


The wolf species are fierce predators that travel in packs. In the 19th and 20th centuries, they were seen as huge threats in Europe for farmers’ livestock. Because of this, wolves alongside other predators like bears, lynx, and wolverines, were systematically eradicated and almost driven to extinction. As of recently, they are making a comeback in Europe.

Due to increased conservation efforts, there are now around 12,000 wolves across the European continent. This species is important to help restore natural processes that keep prey species like deer and wild boars at healthy numbers.

This has come with some pushback from Europeans with the same fear of human-wildlife conflict that led to the species’ previous decline. Many of these fears can be mitigated through various measures that didn’t exist centuries ago. Along with implementing integrated and holistic approaches, the deeper, underlying causes of conflict must be addressed, and solutions need to be developed with affected communities as active and equal participants in the process.

Black Rhinos

Black rhinos are one of two African rhino species. This species is the smaller of the two and resides primarily in Coastal East Africa and Namibia. Populations of black rhino declined dramatically in the 20th century at the hands of European hunters and settlers. Between 1960 and 1995, black rhino numbers dropped by a sobering 98%, to less than 2,500. Since then, the species has made a tremendous comeback from the brink of extinction, although they are still listed as “critically endangered”.

Black rhino numbers have more than doubled, thanks to concerted conservation efforts by the government, local nonprofits, and the communities who manage the land. Today, Namibia is home to the largest black rhino population. An estimated 27,000 rhinos remain in the wild—a far cry from the 500,000 or so that existed at the turn of the last century—and all rhino species face ongoing threats. One of the largest threats to rhinos is people wanting their horns for medicinal purposes, specifically in Vietnam and China.

One of the most effective strategies to protect and expand black rhino populations is moving them. This WWF project based in South Africa allows rhinos to live off the land with less competition for resources so that they’re able to reproduce and create brand new populations.

Black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis) mother and calf, Lewa & Borana Conservancy, Kenya.

© / Will Burrard-Lucas / WWF

Snail Darters

The snail darter, a small species of freshwater ray-finned fish, is found in East Tennessee freshwater in the United States. In the 1970s, this tiny fish gained fame during the U.S. Supreme Court case Tennessee Valley Authority vs. Hill. There was an incredible threat to the snail darter species due to the construction of a proposed dam, the Tellico Dam. The Little Tennessee River, which was the proposed area for the dam, was the snail darters’ last free-flowing habitat.

The Tellico Dam proposal was passed and was constructed in the 1980s. Biologists and conservationists scrambled to transplant the fish into other nearby rivers. Fortunately, the Tennessee Valley Authority improved dam operations to increase oxygen and provide pulsing flows to reduce sediment on river bottoms below dams. As of 2021, the snail darter was removed from the “endangered” species list, removing the risk of species extinction.


Jaguars are at risk of extinction as they face threats from poaching, injuries from vehicle collisions, loss of habitat due to agricultural expansion, and human-wildlife conflict. There are roughly 4,000 jaguars in Mexico and for some time, many jaguars were attacking ranches and farms (like Las Piedras that the Aguirre family owns), killing animals. Because of this, farmers retaliated against these big cats.

“WWF-Mexico and the NGO Animal Karma helped install a solar-powered electric fence around Las Piedras, which emits a low voltage electric shock if the jaguar touches it. Immediately, the Aguirre family felt safer and experienced no further attacks since its installation. Beyond reduced jaguar attacks, the fence brought electricity to the ranch for the very first time. And the solar energy used to power the fence also means minimal impact to the environment.” – World Wildlife Fund

Beyond the solar power fence work in Mexico, WWF is monitoring jaguar populations in the Napo-Putumayo Corridor across Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. They installed 129 camera traps in this region to track jaguar and prey species’ population numbers and collect data on how jaguars use their habitats. This monitoring was prompted by a loss of almost 50% of jaguars’ original range due to threats like deforestation and habitat destruction, and the vast majority of their population is restricted to the Amazon basin. This research is helping to assess the areas in the corridor that need to be protected to preserve jaguars’ livelihoods and accurately track the species population.

Captive jaguar in Belize

© / Lynn M. Stone / WWF

Snow Leopards

Snow leopards live in some of the most rugged and rural landscapes in Asia’s high mountains, which makes it incredibly difficult to study these rare and elusive big cats. A large majority of snow leopard habitat remains under-researched and it was recently revealed that more than 70% of snow leopard habitat remains unexplored.

“Ecological research around snow leopards has grown, but we need to also include and better understand the local communities that share space with snow leopards and who can greatly contribute to conservation interventions.” – Rishi Kumar Sharma, Lead for WWF Snow Leopard Program

Mongolia’s first-ever national snow leopard survey shows that the country’s population of this elusive, big cat is stable. The survey confirmed the presence of approximately 953 snow leopards—an exciting discovery because it indicates that current conservation efforts are effective and will help develop future strategies to protect this charismatic big cat.

Mountain Gorillas

The mountain gorilla is “critically endangered” with just about 1,000 individuals left. However, it is not all doom and gloom because this species population has increased over the past few years. During 2015 and 2016, survey teams combed the Virunga Massif’s dense, mountainous forests in two sweeps in search of the great apes. After a lengthy analysis of all the data, the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration, which coordinated these surveys, announced good numbers: 604 gorillas—up from just 480 in 2010.

Gorilla beringei, Mountain gorilla, Family interaction during midday rest, Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo

© Martin Harvey / WWF

Since then, these numbers have grown due to conservation efforts. Bas Huijbregts, the director for African species conservation at WWF, noted that “It’s because of decades of collaborative conservation work between the three countries and their partners. They’ve given us a model for how to restore our planet’s precious biodiversity.”

Threats still exist for this species including human development; disease; illegal snares set to kill wild antelope, but which can also be lethal to gorillas; and, increasingly, the impacts of climate change on their natural habitat. However, with the expansion of mountain gorilla conservation efforts, more gorillas can be protected every day. 

San Phueng Rock Geckos

In 2022, a new WWF report revealed 224 plant and vertebrate animal species were discovered in the Greater Mekong region (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam) in 2020. One of the species that was discovered is the San Phueng rock gecko. This species was found in Thailand and is most notable for its ability to camouflage itself. Its unique pattern and colors make it appear like it has a half-finished paint job. It has yellow and orange on its upper body that abruptly turns grey halfway down its back, allowing it to camouflage itself against the lichen and dry moss on rocks and trees.