Wild About Good News

With the door closed on 2022, this seems like the right time to celebrate some of the good news from the past year. 

Not Dead Yet

One of my favourite themes from 2022 was the rediscovery of species that were previously thought to be extinct. The idea that plant and animal species are surviving right under our noses is a hopeful one and a reminder that the world is larger than we think. 

Species from around the globe were rediscovered in 2022, including:

-the black-naped pheasant pigeon (Otidiphaps nobilis) that was found in Papua-New Guinea after 140 years, as a result of a partnership with local Indigenous peoples. According to researchers, the pheasant pigeon prefers habitat with “hot, extremely rugged geothermal terrain laced with twisty rivers and dense with biting insects and leeches.”

-the white-bellied whipbird (Psophodes leucogaster), which was located in the desert of the Australian province of Victoria after 40 years.

-in Colombia, the Santa Maria sabrewing (Campylopterus phainopeplus) was seen for only the second time since 1946. Sabrewings are large species of hummingbirds and the Santa Maria sabrewing features decadent blue and green plumage. 

A hummingbird with irridescent green and blue feathers sits on a branch in a forest.
The Santa Maria sabrewing has only been seen twice since 1946. Photo by Yurgen Vega via Gizmodo.

-tortoises may be among the longest lived animals on the planet, but the fantastic giant tortoise (Chelonoidis phantasticus) has been missing since 1906. Rediscovered on a remote part of the Galapagos Islands in 2019, DNA analysis confirmed the identity of this tortoise.

-in the 1980s, 87 species of the harlequin frog (Atelopus spp.) were thought to be extinct as the result of a global fungal outbreak. Today, 32 of those species have been rediscovered in the wild. 

A close up of a frog with mottled yellow and black skin stares directly at the camera.
Harlequin frog by Brian Gratwicke, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

-100 years might seem like a long time to be thought extinct, but Cymatioa cooki, a tiny species of clam, was thought to be extinct for 30,000 years. Let’s hear it for the fossil record for letting us know this species existed in the first place!

-in Turkey, a second Anatolian leopard (Panthera pardus tulliana) was seen after the species was thought to have been hunted to extinction in 1974. Further proof that even big cats like leopards can hide from us for years.

-in Rwanda, the Hill’s horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hilli) was documented for the first time in 40 years. These bats are distinctive because their exaggerated nose “leaf” gives their echolocation calls a deeper frequency than other bats. 

A bat with large ears and a flap above its nose is held in a gloved hand.
Hill’s horseshoe bat, photo by Jon Flanders, Bat Conservation International via Mongabay.

-it’s not only animal species that were rediscovered in 2022. In Haiti, the northern Haiti magnolia (Magnolia emarginata) was located for the first time since 1925. 

-finally, in perhaps one of the longest searches for a thought-to-be-extinct species, researchers believe they have rediscovered silphion (Ferula drudeana), a plant species that was considered a miracle species by the ancient Romans and Greeks. Used as both a medicinal cure-all and a prized culinary delight, the Emperor Nero was thought to have eaten the last of this species 2000 years ago. 

A pair of hands cup an array of small yellow flowers.
Silphion flowers. Photo by Alice Zoo via National Geographic.

Who knows what other species are still out there, living their lives? Shout out to the seekers of the ivory-billed woodpecker and the thylacine—your day will come!

In Recovery

Good news in 2022 wasn’t only limited to rediscovering lost species. Whether it was reintroducing species, seeing wildlife populations increase, or finding animals in new places, there were many successes for nature over the past year. Here are some of the best:

-it may seem like a small thing, but there’s something magical about finding an unexpected animal in a familiar place. Like seeing river otters (Lontra canadensis) in Iowa. River otters were extirpated (declared locally extinct) in the 1880s, but they were reintroduced in the 1980s and are now thriving. 

-in British Columbia, spotted owls (Strix occidentalis) were reintroduced to the wild for the first time. The release of three captive-bred birds increases the BC population from 4 known individuals to 7. 

A brown owl with spotted white feathers naps beside a tree trunk.
Spotted Owl. Photo by gailhampshire, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

-also in BC, 50 Vancouver Island marmots (Marmota vancouverensis) are expected to be released into the wild in 2023 after a record number of pups were born. Twenty years ago, there were only 31 wild marmots, but the population has now grown to over 250 animals.

-in New Zealand, the kakapo (Strigops habroptilus), a green, flightless parrot, saw its numbers increase by 25% in 2022. 

A close up of a green coloured parrot with a large grey bill.
New Zealand kakapo, photo by Brent Barrett, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

-once declared the world’s most endangered bird, the Spix’s macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii) was extirpated from the wild in 1995. This year, 8 birds were released into the wild for the first time, with more releases planned for 2023. 

tiger (Panthera tigris) populations increased in 2022, with Nepal tripling the number of tigers. Since 2009, the number of these big cats in Nepal has grown from 190 to 355. 

-revered for their brightly coloured wings and lengthy migration, monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) populations increased by 35% in 2022. With an arduous journey that extends from Mexico to Canada, monarch butterflies face threats from habitat loss and climate change, so this population increase is welcome news. 

A black and orange butterfly sits on a milkweed plant. The plant has branches of small yellow flowers.
Monarch butterfly, photo by © Derek Ramsey / via Wikimedia Commons.

-attempts to restore coral reefs are showing results, with replanted coral beds spawning for the first time. This is one small step that could help the future recovery of damaged coral reefs around the world. 

Odds and Ends

There was lots of other good news for nature in 2022, including:

-scientists discovered hundreds of new species this year, including everything from lizards to sharks to sea cucumbers and scorpions. I covered some of my favourites earlier this year. 

-the Earth has more tree species than previously thought. Scientists estimate there are as many as 73,300 species of trees, with more than 9,000 species still to be identified. 

-the migration of European eels to the Sargasso Sea has finally been confirmed. This journey has intrigued scientists for thousands of years and was confirmed using radio tracking of eels. 

-for the first time, international governments have agreed to protect 30% of the planet for nature. The Kumming-Montreal Accord provides a path to protect biodiversity around the globe. Not a bad way to end 2022!

A wetland features cattails beneath a stormy grey sky.
Wetlands are key to protecting biodiversity. Photo by Kurt Bauschardt, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

These are a few of my highlights from the past year. What’s your favourite good news story from 2022?

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