5 endangered species that captured people’s hearts

Happy International Polar Bear Day to me!

Image: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Polar bears have become the poster child for all the horrible things we’re doing to the planet. But they’re also a symbol of hope.

Wildlife groups are fighting to save the Arctic-dwelling species as their habitat steadily melts and toxic chemicals pile up on the ice.

On Monday, conservationists will celebrate International Polar Bear Day to highlight the small but important steps people can take to help preserve the bears’ homes namely by cutting greenhouse gas emissions to slow the pace of global warming.

Yet polar bears are far from the only species to galvanize wildlife lovers and drive conservation efforts.

Here’s a look at other endangered species that have inspired their own global movements.

Pangolins

These mammals are much smaller, scalier and more obscure than the celebrity-status polar bear, but they’re just as imperiled. The cat-sized pangolin is thought to be the world’s most trafficked animal. Its meat is considered a luxury food in many cultures, and its scales are popular in traditional Asian medicines.

But the anteaters received some good news in October, after 180 countries and conservation groups signed an agreement to end all legal trade of pangolins. All eight pangolin species received the top level of protection under a global endangered species convention.

Companies like Google and nonprofits such as the World Wildlife Fund are also rolling out advanced technologies to track poachers and sniff out illegal shipments.

Giant pandas

True, these black-and-white bears are just as iconic as their Arctic cousins. But giant pandas are worth noting because they’re actually rebounding thanks to decades of conservation work in China.

In September, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on Sunday moved the black-eared bears from “endangered” to “vulnerable” on its Red List of Threatened Species. The Chinese government has worked to replant bamboo forests the bears’ main food source and habitat and develop captive breeding programs.

Orangutans

Indonesia’s Sumatran orangutan has had a few rough decades.

The primate’s habitat is rapidly disappearing as farmers burn and drain swamp forests to produce more palm oil an ingredient used in most of the world’s packaged foods and bath products. A recent study found the Sumatran orangutan lost 60 percent of its habitat between 1985 and 2007.

Feeling gloomy? How about a baby orangutan to cheer you up?

A baby orangutan clings to its mother, Violet, inside the Thirty Hills forest concession in Sumatra, Indonesia.

Image: Frankfurt zoological society

Born in November, the infant became the first orangutan to be born inside the Thirty Hills conservation concession, a 100,000-acre forest on Indonesia’s Sumatra island. World Wildlife Fund said the birth was a “symbol of hope” for the specie’s future.

Humpback whales

Global conservation efforts in the last four decades have helped nine of 14 humpback population segments rebound from historically low levels, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

As of recently, those efforts include the use of high-resolution satellite technology. In Western Australia, researchers are starting to use satellite imagery to count the size of local humpback whale populations.

Such surveys are key to keeping tabs on whales and knowing whether they’re thriving, or teetering on the edge of extinction.

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