In the vast tapestry of life that crisscrosses the planet, migratory species embroider intricate patterns in mostly invisible lines across borders, oceans and continents.

The 14th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Migratory Species (CoP CMS), held in February 2024 in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, opened with the launch of the first-ever UN report on migratory species

The theme of the CoP, Nature Knows No Borders, reflected the report’s emphasis on transboundary ecological connectivity. At the event, Nat Hab’s conservation partner, World Wildlife Fund, together with other global conservation organizationslaunched the new Global Partnership on Ecological Connectivity (GPEC).

We are convinced that achieving ecological connectivity is the challenge of our time. However, no one entity can achieve connectivity alone. This partnership is a significant leap forward in our collective ability to deliver connectivity impact at scale, and WWF is delighted to be involved. Together it is possible. —Rafael Antelo, WWF Wildlife Connect Leader and PACHA Coordinator, WWF

Global Threats to Migratory Species

The UN report cast a light on remarkable migratory journeys, revealing narratives both perilous and promising. Nearly half of the migratory species listed are experiencing population declines, and more than 20% are threatened with extinction. Habitat loss and fragmentation, climate change and human encroachment are the main challenges cited.

Global threats to migratory species are numerous and varied, posing significant challenges to their survival. The two most critical threats are overexploitation, which includes unsustainable hunting, overfishing and bycatch, and habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation due to human activities such as agriculture and infrastructure development.

Climate change also represents a major threat, amplifying existing pressures like pollution and invasive species. Warming temperatures can also disrupt migratory patterns by altering habitats and food availability. 

Despite these challenges, concerted conservation efforts have shown that recovery is possible, highlighting the need for global action to protect these vital species. Here are a few of those species and the conservation initiatives supporting them.

migratory birds at sunset canada geese

1. Humpback Whale: The Ocean’s Melodious Giants

The humpback whale, a majestic leviathan of the seas, is celebrated for its acrobatic displays and complex songs. Humpback whales show a repertoire of at least 15 different surface behaviors, making them easy to spot. In fact, they are the only baleen whales that breach, jumping completely out of the water. Since adult humpback whales typically range from 46 to 56 feet in length with pectoral fins, among the longest of any whale species, at up to 16 feet long, their acrobatic displays are breathtaking.

Humpback Migration

Humpbacks are also renowned for their extensive migratory behavior, some of the longest of any mammal. They can travel up to 9,900 miles annually between summer feeding grounds in cooler polar waters and winter breeding grounds in warmer tropical or subtropical waters.

humpback whales bubble net feeding

A pod of humpback whales bubble-net feeding. Photographed by Nat Hab guest © Mary Campbell

In the North Pacific, some humpback whales migrate from the cold waters of Alaska to the warm and sheltered waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands, completing the 3,000-mile trip in as few as 28 days. Nat Hab’s Ultimate Alaska Wildlife Safari visits private Fox Island on the edge of Kenai Fjords National Park, providing a wonderful opportunity to spot humpback whales.

Similarly, populations in the Southern Hemisphere migrate from feeding areas around Antarctica to breeding grounds along the coasts of Colombia, Madagascar, and Australia. These migrations ensure they can access abundant food sources and safe environments for breeding and calving.

Humpback whales were once hunted to the brink of extinction, but thanks to global conservation efforts, their populations have rebounded. Recent data suggests significant recovery, with estimates indicating over 40,000 individuals in the east Australian population alone.

Nat Hab’s Ultimate Australia Safari spends several days on Lady Elliot Island, situated directly on the Great Barrier Reef. In October and November, guests may spot humpback whales spouting or breaching.

Conservation Comeback

Key conservation efforts contributing to the humpback whale’s recovery include:

•       International Whaling Ban: The International Whaling Commission’s moratorium on commercial whaling since 1985 has been pivotal in the species’ resurgence.

•       Habitat Protection: Critical habitats in Australia, Alaska, Iceland and British Columbia have been safeguarded, ensuring safe migratory routes and feeding grounds.

•       Entanglement Reduction: Initiatives to reduce whale entanglement in fishing gear have been implemented, decreasing mortality rates.

•       Vessel Traffic Management: Regulations to manage vessel traffic have been crucial in reducing collisions with whales, particularly in busy maritime corridors.

•       Research and Monitoring: Ongoing research and monitoring have provided valuable insights into humpback whale behavior and population dynamics, informing conservation strategies.

•       Public Engagement: Engaging the public through whale-watching tourism and educational programs has raised awareness and support for humpback whale conservation.

Photographed by Nat Hab guest © Jay Atherton on our Spirit Bears, Humpbacks & Wildlife of BC adventure.

Humpback whales photographed by Nat Hab guest © Jay Atherton on our Spirit Bears, Humpbacks & Wildlife of BC adventure.

Concerted conservation efforts have led to a remarkable recovery, with some humpback populations nearing pre-whaling numbers. The humpback whale’s improved status is a testament to the effectiveness of international conservation cooperation and dedicated conservation actions. More species need this kind of help.

Chris Johnson, Global Lead, WWF Protecting Whales & Dolphins Initiative says:

“The conservation needs and threats to migratory species need to be addressed with greater effectiveness, at a broader scale, and with renewed determination. Connectivity conservation is a concept that recognizes that species survive and adapt better when their habitats are managed and protected as large, interconnected networks.” 

Monarch Butterfly: A Delicate Dance

The monarch butterfly’s migration is one of nature’s most delicate dances and complex conservation stories. Known for its striking orange and black wings, the monarch butterfly is not just a beautiful sight to behold but also an important pollinator and a symbol of nature’s interconnectedness. The monarch’s life cycle and migration are wonders of the natural world, involving multiple generations and a journey that spans thousands of miles.

monarch butterfly migration Mexico

Monarch butterflies photographed by Nat Hab guest © Hank Davis

Monarch Migration

The eastern monarch butterfly embarks on an incredible 1,200 to 2,800 mile migration each year, traveling from the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada to the mountain forests of central Mexico. The butterflies congregate in the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, where they find shelter from the winter weather.

Unfortunately, this population has faced a sharp decline due to habitat loss, climate change and other human-related factors. In 2023, WWF reported that in one year, the presence of monarchs in their wintering grounds dropped by 22%, from 7 acres to nearly 5.5 acres.

Conservation efforts have been focused on protecting the monarch’s migratory path and breeding habitat. Initiatives include the planting of milkweed—the sole food source for monarch caterpillars—and reducing pesticide use. These efforts are crucial as the eastern monarch butterfly is currently listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List. Nat Hab’s Kingdom of the Monarchs itineraries focus on overwintering eastern monarch butterflies in Mexico.

Western monarch butterflies, residing west of the Rocky Mountains, migrate to overwintering sites along the Pacific coast, particularly in California. This population has also experienced a dramatic decline, with numbers falling by over 99% since the 1980s.

However, recent counts have shown a rebound to the highest numbers since 2000, with over 335,000 butterflies counted during the 2022 annual Thanksgiving Western Monarch Count in California and Arizona. This increase is a testament to the concerted conservation actions taken to protect and manage overwintering sites, restore breeding and migratory habitat, and reduce pesticide impact.

Conservation Comeback

Conservation groups have been working tirelessly to reverse the decline of both eastern and western monarch populations. These efforts include:

•       Habitat Restoration: Creating and maintaining monarch-friendly habitats with native plants, including milkweed and nectar sources.

•       Pesticide Reduction: Advocating for and implementing practices that reduce the use of harmful pesticides that can affect monarchs at all stages of their life cycle.

•       Public Engagement: Engaging communities through education and citizen science projects to raise awareness and encourage local conservation actions.

•       Policy and Legislation: Supporting policies that protect monarch habitats and migratory paths, such as the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act and the MONARCH Act.

Natural Habitat Adventures guest observes monarch butterfly migration in Mexico sustainable tourism women in travel women empowered women in the wild adventures

Photographed by Nat Hab Expedition Leader & Chief Sustainability Officer © Court Whelan

These initiatives have led to positive outcomes, but the conservation status of the monarch butterfly remains precarious, with the eastern population listed as Endangered and the western population still far below historic numbers. Recent upticks in western monarch numbers provide hope and underscore the importance of ongoing conservation efforts.

Saiga Antelope: Back from the Brink of Extinction

The saiga antelope is distinguished by its bulbous nose, which functions to filter dust and regulate temperature. This medium-sized hoofed mammal once ranged from Poland to Mongolia but now primarily resides in the Eurasian steppe: Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia.

Saiga antelope or Saiga tatarica walks in steppe near waterhole in winter

Saiga Migration

Saigas are known for their impressive migrations, traveling vast distances between their winter and summer pastures in search of food and breeding grounds. These seasonal movements are crucial for their survival, allowing them to navigate the harsh steppe environment. 

Despite facing severe threats from poaching, habitat loss and disease, conservation efforts have led to a remarkable recovery, showcasing the species’ resilience and the effectiveness of international cooperation in wildlife conservation.

At its lowest point, the population of saiga antelopes dwindled to a perilous low of just 39,000 individuals in 2005.

Conservation Comeback

Concerted conservation actions have seen the saiga population in Kazakhstan increase tenfold since 2015, demonstrating the effectiveness of international cooperation and targeted conservation actions.

Amy Fraenkel, head of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) secretariat, uses the saiga antelope as an example of successful internal conservation cooperation, saying

We know what needs to be done. There is a lot of reason for hope. …In some cases, we can use a regional approach. We have an initiative in Central Asia called the Central Asian Mammal Initiative. It includes all 5 Central Asian countries and a few others, including Mongolia. We look at species of antelopes and gazelles. The countries have agreed on a set of priorities. There are some good successes, including the saiga antelope, which had been in massive decline, and now there are 2 million of them in Kazakstan. It’s wonderful to see that kind of a result.

Wild rare animal, two male saiga antelopes with beautiful horns are fighting, endangered in their natural habitat

Saiga antelope conservation initiatives include:

  • International Conservation Agreements: Countries within the saiga’s range (Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia and Uzbekistan) have agreed on joint conservation measures under the CMS to conserve and sustainably use the species.


  • Anti-Poaching Efforts: Increased anti-poaching patrols and stricter penalties have been crucial in protecting the saiga from illegal hunting.
  • Habitat Protection: Efforts to improve and restore the saiga’s habitat have been implemented, ensuring they have safe migratory routes and breeding grounds. 
  • Population Monitoring: Regular population counts and monitoring have helped track the success of conservation efforts and make informed decisions.
  • Community Engagement: Involving local communities in conservation programs has been key to the sustainable management of the saiga populations.
  • Disease ManagementAddressing wildlife diseases that have previously led to mass die-offs has been a part of the conservation strategy.

Saiga antelope status has improved from ‘Critically Endangered’ to ‘Near Threatened,’ with current estimates of over 1.9 million to 2 million individuals today.

Black-faced Spoonbill: Pan-Asia Flier

The black-faced spoonbill, with its striking black face and long, flat bill, is a wading bird that inhabits the coastal areas of East Asia. This endangered species has the most restricted distribution among spoonbills, breeding on a few islands off North Korea and then migrating and wintering in places like Taiwan, Hong Kong and Vietnam.

The black-faced spoonbill is a species of wading bird in the ibis and spoonbill family Threskiornithidae. The scientific name is Platalea minor.

In the late 1980s, the global population of black-faced spoonbill dipped below 300 individuals, but concerted conservation efforts have led to a significant recovery. As of the 2022 global census, the population stands at 6,162 individuals. This remarkable turnaround is a testament to the power of international cooperation in species conservation.

Key conservation actions for the black-faced spoonbill include:

•       International Action Plans: Implemented in 1995 and 2010–2020, these plans have played a pivotal role in the species’ recovery.

•       Habitat Protection: Ensuring the full protection of breeding and wintering sites, including the establishment of protected areas and reserves.

•       Community Involvement: Engaging local residents and raising awareness about the spoonbill’s conservation needs, which has been crucial for habitat preservation.

•       International Cooperation: Countries along the bird’s migratory route have collaborated to preserve essential habitats and manage conservation efforts.

Black-faced Spoonbill (Platalea minor) standing in water

The black-faced spoonbill’s conservation status, currently listed as ‘Endangered,’ reflects the ongoing challenges it faces, such as habitat loss and pollution. However, the species’ recovery score has improved, indicating that with continued efforts, full recovery is possible within the next century.

This species’ story is a beacon of hope, showing that with dedicated action and international collaboration, the decline of threatened species can be reversed. The black-faced spoonbill remains a symbol of the success that can be achieved through shared conservation goals.

How to Help Protect Migratory Species

When asked what we can do to support migratory species, Fraenkel points first to reducing light pollution, saying:

Every year, 2% more of Earth is illuminated, including at night. Light, like other kinds of disturbances, can have a significant impact on migratory species. It’s killing hundreds of millions of birds per year. It’s solvable.

She encourages each of us to learn how to reduce the impact of light pollution, which can include changes as simple as the kind of light used or the way it is pointed.

Domestic animals can also have a significant negative impact on migratory species. We love our cats, but they can act as an invasive species, making avian migration even more dangerous.

Finally, it is beneficial to continue focusing on sustainable use, reducing the use of energy and water, and increasing the well-being of local ecosystems.

We can also support conservation organizations, advocate for sustainable practices and educate others about the importance of migratory species. 

humpback whale mother and calf

Humpback whale mother and calf

As we reflect on the data and stories shared at CMS COP14, let us commit to being stewards of these migratory marvels. Their journeys are part of our shared natural heritage, a source of wonder, and a reminder of the interconnectedness of all life on Earth. Together, we can ensure that great migrations continue for generations.

Witness some of Earth’s greatest migrations on Nat Hab’s migration-focused trips