Reintroducing Lost Species: 50 Inspiring Stories of Restoration

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1 NYC Revives Harbor Oyster Reefs

NYC Revives Harbor Oyster Reefs

New York City is reintroducing millions of oysters into its harbor to clean the water and create marine habitats, aiming to rebuild massive oyster reefs that once rivaled coral reefs in complexity. Historically, oyster reefs were vast ecosystems—not just a few shellfish in the mud—but we lost these due to overharvesting and habitat destruction. By collecting used shells from local restaurants, the city provides new homes for juvenile oysters.

2. The Arabian Oryx became extinct in the wild by the early 1970s, but conservationists saved it in zoos and private reserves and began reintroducing it into the wild starting in 1980. In 2011, the Arabian Oryx became the first animal to revert to vulnerable status on the IUCN Red List after previously being listed as extinct.

3. In July 2018, Russian scientists collected and analyzed 300 prehistoric worms from the permafrost and thawed them. Scientists revived two ancient worms, one dating back 32,000 years and the other 41,700 years, and they began to move and eat.

4. In 1995, scientists reintroduced gray wolves into Yellowstone National Park, resulting in the regeneration of the entire ecosystem (a trophic cascade). Nearly 100 years ago, a regional drive drove wolves extinct, but their reintroduction displaced elk, spared saplings from extinction, controlled riverbank erosion, and altered the courses of streams and rivers.

5. Knapdale in Scotland has successfully reintroduced beavers, and they are now thriving in the River Tay and its tributaries, as well as the River Otter in Devon. By building dams, digging canals, and creating dead wood, beavers act as ecological engineers, enhancing water quality, trapping nutrients, reducing soil erosion, and ameliorating flooding. Their presence also benefits other species, including young salmon, which grow faster in beaver-inhabited areas, and various insects, amphibians, birds, and mammals.

6 Biologist Revives Pipevine Swallowtails

Biologist Revives Pipevine Swallowtails

Tim Wong, an aquatic biologist at the California Academy of Sciences, has brought back the rare California pipevine swallowtail butterfly to San Francisco. Wong created a habitat by cultivating over 200 California pipevine plants in his backyard, where he raises and releases thousands of caterpillars each year.

7. In 1979, scientists declared the black-footed ferret extinct. However, in 1981, a dog in Meeteetse, Wyoming, brought a dead ferret home, leading to the discovery of a small population. Today, the black-footed ferret is making a comeback.

8. The Quagga Project aims to bring back the quagga, a subspecies of plains zebra that went extinct in 1883. It aims to reintroduce it into its former habitat. The Quagga Project has succeeded in producing breeding lineages in 10 locations in South Africa.

9. The European bison, or ‘wisent’, was considered extinct in the wild in 1927. Since then, conservationists have reintroduced this species in many European countries, leading to a significant comeback, and it is no longer considered endangered.

10. In 1964, conservationists reintroduced manatees to the Panama Canal to manage algal blooms and waterweeds.

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11 Nazi Scientists’ Attempted Aurochs Revival

Nazi Scientists' Attempted Aurochs Revival

In the 1920s, Nazi scientists Heinz and Lutz Heck attempted to revive the extinct Aurochs, an ancient and formidable wild cattle species. They pursued this by selectively breeding aggressive mutant cows, resulting in animals that were so hostile that they posed a threat to anyone who approached them.

12. In the 1990s, microbiologist Raul Cano successfully revived yeast trapped in amber for 25 million years. He then co-founded a brewery utilizing the same 45 million-year-old yeast species to brew beer.

13. In 2012, Russian scientists were able to revive Silene stenophylla, an arctic flower that had been extinct for 32,000 years, from seeds preserved by an Ice Age squirrel near the Kolyma River. This groundbreaking feat, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, highlights the significance of permafrost as a genetic repository and offers insights into seed preservation techniques.

14. In the 1950s, the Asiatic cheetah was declared extinct in India, leaving only 15 individuals in Iran. Recent conservation efforts have successfully reintroduced them, with Dr. Marker asserting, “If we can save the cheetah, we can change the world… Or we have to change the world to save the cheetah.”

15. The 1990s reintroduction of the extinct Red Kite to England was so successful that the population has grown exponentially, making accurate counting impossible. Other European countries are now using English kites to reintroduce the bird.

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16 Pyrenean Ibex Cloned, Dies Quickly

Pyrenean Ibex Cloned, Dies Quickly

In 2003, scientists “resurrected” the Pyrenean ibex, an extinct species, bringing back one living specimen, which tragically died seven minutes later from a lung defect. It thus became the first animal to go extinct twice.

17. The Judean Date Palm was extinct until scientists germinated 2,000-year-old seeds found in an ancient jar in Israel, dating between 155 B.C. and 64 A.D., successfully bringing the tree back into existence.

18. The Bronx hosts a thriving population of wild parrots, initially introduced due to the pet trade but now making the area their home by nesting on warm baseball field lights. They have since spread across other boroughs, including Manhattan.

19. In January 1985, Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources airlifted 59 moose from Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park to Marquette County in an effort dubbed “Michigan’s Moose Lift,” aiming to re-establish the dwindling moose population in the Upper Peninsula. By 2011, this initiative had successfully increased the moose population to approximately 433.

20. In the 19th century, the United States made efforts to reintroduce squirrels to urban areas, even using them as educational tools to teach children kindness.

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21 Webcams Monitor Peregrine Falcons’ Comeback

Webcams Monitor Peregrine Falcons’ Comeback

In Rochester, New York, six webcams monitor Peregrine Falcons nesting on the Times Square Building and Kodak Office Tower as part of a decades-long effort to reintroduce this species, which nearly went extinct in upstate New York due to DDT pesticide exposure.

22. In the 1980s, the last 29 Guam kingfishers were captured to save the species from extinction caused by invasive brown tree snakes. Thanks to zoo breeding programs, their population has grown to 140 (as of 2020), with future plans to reintroduce them to their native habitats.

23. The Norwegian Forest Cat nearly went extinct during World War II due to cross-breeding with free-ranging domestic cats. The Norwegian Forest Cat Club’s official breeding program, which started post-war, helped the breed recover and gain recognition.

24. A unique population of bison, genetically distinct from most farmed bison, has established itself on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake. This herd is crucial for providing genetic diversity to support and reestablish wild bison populations across North America, helping to ensure the species’ long-term survival and ecological health.

25. The Spanish reintroduced horses to North America in the 1550s, reshaping ecosystems and indigenous cultures after they went extinct there about 10,000 years ago.

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