It's been a turbulent year for wildlife conservation. We waved goodbye to Malaysia's only surviving Sumatran rhino, read reports that at least one million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, and watched Hurricane Dorian most likely wash away the world's remaining Bahama nuthatches. But it wasn't all bad. End your year off on a good note with these five positive nature stories from 2019:

Coelacanth sightings

The coelacanth – a species of deep-sea fish that was believed to be extinct until its rediscovery in 1938 – is something of a holy grail for divers and researchers. Although the species managed a remarkable comeback, coelacanths are still believed to be incredibly rare and only 34 individuals are known to science. In 2019, two coelacanth sightings in South Africa made headlines – one of which occurred in an area where the fish had not been spotted previously.

The first sighting happened in May and featured a fish familiar to scientists. “Eric”, as he is known, was captured on camera 125 metres below the surface in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park with the help of a remote-operated vehicle (ROV). “We are happy that he seems to be very healthy," Dr Kerry Sink of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) told News24 at the time.

Perhaps even more exciting was the discovery of a coelacanth in November near Pumula off South Africa's eastern coastline. Although there was anecdotal evidence of the rare fish in this area, no divers or researchers had returned with video evidence. The new discovery opens the door for more research to be conducted in the area.

Mouse-Deer rediscovered

There have been at least 160 recorded extinctions in the last decade, but a handful of species have also bounced back. Ever heard of the silver-backed chevrotain? We’d be surprised if you have. Until recently, scientists had only recorded five specimens of these deer-like mammals – all of them already dead. Shy, elusive, and only about the size of a rabbit, silver-backed chevrotains have been dodging scientists for almost 30 years. The last verifiable record dates back to 1990, when a research expedition to Vietnam’s Gia Lai province collected one that had been killed by a hunter.

But just because a species hasn’t been documented for a while, doesn’t mean it’s disappeared completely. Photos and footage captured on camera traps reveal that, in at least one pocket of forest in southern Vietnam, silver-backed chevrotains are alive and well.

Tigers on the Rise


Tiger-related news is rarely positive, but in July this year, a census revealed that India is now home to nearly 3,000 wild tigers, an increase of more than 30% since the last count was conducted four years ago. The latest figures were released on International Tiger Day (July 29) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who called the rise in numbers a "historic achievement" for India's big cat population.

According to the recent count, at least 2,967 wild tigers roam the country's dense jungles, up from 2,226 in the last survey. "We reaffirm our commitment towards protecting the tiger," Narendra Modi said as he released the report. "Some 15 years ago, there was serious concern about the decline in the population of tigers. It was a big challenge for us but with determination, we have achieved our goals."

Of course, there is still much to be done to ensure that the big cats receive the protection they require. While secure and established tiger populations in some parts of India have increased, smaller populations that live in isolation or on the fringes of prime tiger habitat have suffered losses. "This highlights the need for conservation efforts to focus on improving connectivity between isolated populations, while incentivising the relocation of people out of core tiger areas, reducing poaching and improving habitat to increase prey resources," wrote Matt Hayward, University of Newcastle Associate Professor and Joseph K. Bump, Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota.

Deep-sea shark tagged

The bluntnose sixgill is one of ocean's most widespread predators, but its deep-sea lifestyle and nocturnal habits make it difficult to study. Although researchers have gleaned what info they can from sixgills caught as bycatch or those that do sometimes stray from the briny depths into shallower water, there is still much to learn about these behemoths. Earlier this year, a team from OceanX and the Cape Eleuthera Institute embarked on a quest to fit a satellite tag to a sixgill shark in its natural habitat.

To achieve their ambitious goal, the team constructed a specialised rig complete with bait station and a speargun loaded with a satellite tag. The rig was mounted on a sub which was steered to the ocean floor. It was a bold plan and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it took a few attempts to get it right. But get it right they did.

The team's efforts have not only opened the doorway to unlocking secrets about sixgills, but they have shown that it's possible to tag a deep-sea denizen in its natural habitat. This technology and methodology have wide-reaching impacts for the future study of creatures that dwell in the ocean depths.

World's loneliest frog gets a mate

One of our favourite conservation success stories of 2019 features a lonely Sehuencas water frog named Romeo and a team of dedicated researchers who went out of their way to find him a mate. Once thought to be the last of his kind, Romeo had been leading a solitary life in Bolivia’s Cochabamba Natural History Museum ever since he was scooped up by researchers who were hoping he could kickstart a breeding programme for the imperilled amphibians. But efforts to find Romeo a mate had proved unsuccessful.

Sehuencas water frogs typically live to be about 15 years old and Romeo was already into the double digits. Desperate to track down a female before Romeo lost interest in such things (he had apparently already given up on croaking for a lover), researchers from Global Wildlife Conservation and the Museo de Historia Natural Alcide d’Orbigny raised funds through an innovative initiative and soon ventured into the cloud forests to find Romeo a partner.

They came back with five Sehuencas water frogs, including a Juliet for the lovelorn Romeo. After being cleared of a deadly infectious disease called chytridiomycosis, the two frogs were introduced and it is hoped that their family will soon be growing.

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