At the National Geographic Society, we find hope in the strength and resilience of the natural world. That’s why, together with the Wyss Foundation’s Campaign for Nature, we launched our 30 Days of Hope initiative, a daily series of stories about inspirational moments in nature.
This week, as we count down to the International Day for Biological Diversity on May 22, we celebrate the value and insights of indigenous peoples’ voices in conservation, and species that are returning to wild spaces—including the “Big Five” to parks in Africa and koalas to their habitats in Australia. We also take a look at a natural capital initiative in China that places nature as a critical part of the country’s future.
Follow us on Twitter for daily, inspirational stories about the natural world and the people, organizations, and countries working to protect it. Did you miss last week’s posts? Check out 30 Days of Hope Week 1 here!
Community-Led Conservation at the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary
The elephants of Reteti Elephant Sanctuary have been orphaned or abandoned by their herds, but they are not without care. Established in 2016 by the Namunyak Community Conservancy, elephants at the sanctuary are hand-reared by community members until they are strong enough to return to the wild.
The Reteti Elephant Sanctuary is the first community-led elephant sanctuary in East Africa and employs local staff who work as keepers and caretakers. It is part of the Northern Rangelands Trust, an umbrella conservation organization that helps to create a sustainable future for people and wildlife within its network of more than 30 community conservancies.
Valuing the Voices of Indigenous Peoples in Conservation
The Global Deal for Nature, which is a time-bound, science-driven plan to save the diversity and abundance of life on Earth, states that when it comes to reaching the goal of protecting 30% of land and water by 2030, “the direction, insights, rights, and voices of indigenous peoples are essential.”
Some countries are stepping up to the plate to value the insights and role of indigenous peoples and local communities in conservation. For example, in 2019, Canada announced funding for 27 new indigenous protected areas, which are preserved wild spaces managed by indigenous peoples. These funds support reconciliation with indigenous peoples and provide resources to protect traditional lands and the cultural values associated with nature.
Australia’s Koalas Make a Comeback
In late March, four wild koalas returned to their natural habitat in Australia’s Blue Mountains, after being rescued during this year’s intense bushfires. They were being cared for at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo.
Koalas are a slow-moving marsupial whose diet consists entirely of the leaves from eucalyptus trees. Eucalyptus is a fire-adapted species. In a typical wildfire, the flames don’t reach the top of the trees, and koalas can take shelter there. The intensity of this year’s fires left koalas with nowhere to go. Some were rescued and tended to, and are now making their way back to the wild.
Restoring Rwanda’s Akagera National Park
Rwanda’s Akagera National Park was nearly destroyed by war, but today, it’s home to a diversity of wildlife that includes the “Big Five” species—leopards, lions, Cape buffalo, elephants, and rhinos.
The park was a battlefield during Rwanda’s civil unrest in the early 1990s. After the war, Akagera was strained further by a resettlement agreement and unchecked poaching. In 2009, the Rwandan government and the non-profit African Parks launched an ambitious plan to restore and rehabilitate the park.
The result? Not only did the wildlife return, but tourism that supports the surrounding communities did, too. “Conservationists have hailed the park’s transformation, and some hope it can serve as a model for what can happen when nature is encouraged to come back,” shares a recent article in National Geographic.
Reintroducing Wildlife at Malawi’s Majete Wildlife Reserve
When non-profit African Parks began managing the Majete Wildlife Reserve in 2003, few thought there was hope for revival in this forgotten reserve in the Republic of Malawi. Nearly all of the wildlife had either been killed or driven away, and trees were harvested for charcoal. Tourists were long gone.
In the last 17 years, Majete has flourished under careful care. Rhinos were reintroduced in 2003, followed by elephants in 2006 and lions in 2012. More recently, the park reintroduced giraffes and cheetahs after long absences.
Majete is now Malawi’s premier wildlife destination, with tourists visiting to see the diversity of wildlife and, in turn, supporting the communities that surround the park. More good news: African Parks says “not one rhino or elephant has been poached from the reserve since they were reintroduced.”
Protecting Gayini in Australia
In 2019, over 88,000 hectares of environmentally and culturally significant land and wildlife habitat in Australia returned to its traditional custodians, the Nari Nari people.
The Wyss Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, and the Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation worked in partnership to establish the Gayini Nimmie-Caira sustainable agriculture zone and protected area in the Murrumbidgee floodplain. It was then deeded to the Nari Nari for long-term stewardship.
Gayini Nimmie-Caira is an important habitat for migratory birds and will be managed for environmental protection, cultural values, and sustainable development. It is part of the 1 million square kilometer Murray-Darling Basin, which provides drinking water to over 3 million Australians.
Investing in Natural Capital in China
After the devastating landslides and flooding of the Yangtze River in 1998, China created an ambitious plan to invest in nature. The nature capital-based plan, which identifies nature as a key player in China’s long term prosperity and security, is designating Ecosystem Function Conservation Areas (EFCAs) throughout the country.
EFCAs provide a specific natural capital benefit to the country, such as water purification, climate stabilization, or flood control. Within each EFCA development is limited, human impacts are reduced, and there is a focus on alleviating poverty by creating sustainable livelihoods.
We hope that you can find inspiration in the strength and resilience of nature, and in the work being done around the world to preserve it. Please like and share these stories—and your own—with the hashtag #30DaysofHope. For more information about this campaign, visit: campaignfornature.org/30-days-of-hope.