Ten More Reasons for Hope!

With the audacious vision of ending extinction, San Diego Zoo Global is currently working on 132 conservation projects in 62 countries. We are committed to saving species worldwide by uniting our expertise in animal care and conservation science with our dedication to inspiring a passion for nature.

As human populations overtake wild spaces, and economic endeavors like logging, fracking, and mining alter habitats and poaching, pollution, and climate change threaten wildlife, the need for effective conservation is more urgent than ever. Thanks to our members and supporters, we have now helped to reintroduce 43 species back to the wild: 8 species of reptiles and amphibians, 19 bird species, and 16 mammal species. With commitment, collaboration, and your support, we will continue to lead the fight against extinction. Highlighted below are 10 of the species that we are working with—our 10 Reasons for Hope for 2014.

In 2002, fewer than 200 mountain yellow-legged frogs were left in the streams of Southern California’s mountains. Four years later, a group of tadpoles was rescued from fire-damaged habitat and brought to our Institute for Conservation Research. Our research team devised an innovative method of inducing breeding: they placed the frogs in wine chillers to simulate winter climate, and then removed them for “spring”—and breeding season. Years of care and learning about the species has paid off, and more than 300 juvenile frogs have been reintroduced into their historic range. Radio transmitters in frog-sized backpacks enabled monitoring, revealing a healthy 95-percent survival rate the first month. During one of the post-release surveys, a male frog was observed advertising his readiness to mate, boding well for the first generation of wild-hatched frogs to populate the area for the first time in 20 years.

Not long ago, the future for the giant panda looked grim. Little was known about the ecology and biology of this bamboo-eating bear, and its numbers had plummeted. Fortunately, changes over the last 20 years have benefitted the giant panda. The Chinese government has banned logging and started reforestation projects in key habitat while also increasing the number of wildlife reserves from 10 to 65. Scientists in China and abroad have collaborated to increase our knowledge of giant pandas, a boon to captive and wild management. Work by our scientists has advanced pregnancy diagnosis from hoping and waiting for a cub to using ultrasound to visualize the fetus at about 20 days before birth; then to using thermal imaging to reveal pregnancy about 50 to 60 days before birth; and now to measuring protein levels in the bear’s urine to determine conception within 30 days of breeding. The captive population of pandas has reached the milestone of 300 bears, the minimum necessary to sustain 97 percent of the genetic diversity for the next 100 years. With wild populations stabilizing and even increasing, the giant panda may now be a candidate for downlisting from endangered to threatened status.

San Diego Zoo Global partnered with The Nature Conservancy, the Bureau of Land Management, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to preserve the Tecate cypress, a conifer found in Southern California and parts of Baja California, Mexico. Numbers of this noble tree have declined rapidly in the past decade. We have been able to provide a safeguard against extinction from the frequent wildfires that are decimating the remaining trees in the United States. Our applied plant ecologists collected seeds from one of the last remaining cypress stands in California. Some of the seeds were frozen and placed in our Native Plant Seed Bank, while the remaining were propagated and used to create a nursery for this species. The seedlings produced will grow into adult trees, producing thousands of seeds that can then be used to support future reforestation efforts.

Four Tasmanian devils arrived at the San Diego Zoo last fall, making us one of two zoos in the United States to highlight this endangered carnivorous marsupial. A deadly and contagious cancer called devil tumor facial disease (DTFD) has been wiping out entire populations in the wild. In response, we have partnered with the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program, a government initiative established in 2003 to combat the threat of DTFD. This collaborative project works to eradicate the disease, create healthy assurance populations, and raise awareness about the plight of these animals. A disease-free population was recently established on Maria Island, and we are sponsoring an Australian postdoctoral research fellow to monitor them in their new home.

The recovery of the California condor in Baja California, Mexico, is taking time. After releasing condors there in 2002, we had to wait another seven years for the birds to reach sexual maturity, find a mate, lay their first egg, and rear a healthy chick. Researchers scoured Mexican skies for tag-free juvenile birds while monitoring condor pairs. Unfortunately, inexperienced pairs tend to select poor nesting sites, resulting in egg loss. In 2012, we were delighted to see a clumsy, tag-free juvenile near a feeding site. Dubbed #675, this was the first condor to successfully fledge in Baja in over 80 years! One month later, on March 24, 2012, a second fledged juvenile (#682) showed up with its parents. The Baja condor program now produces 12 to 15 chicks annually in the wild. Combined with birds raised in captivity, over 50 condors join the species count each year. As more wild condors transfer to natural foods and lead poisoning becomes better controlled, we could achieve full recovery of this iconic species over the next decade.

In an emergency rescue effort, the first 22 Pacific pocket mice founders were brought into managed care in the summer of 2012. Housed and monitored at an off-exhibit area of the Safari Park, this endangered species bred for the first time in 2013 and produced 16 offspring, which are now part of this year’s breeding efforts. Our goal is to establish several new populations in the wild, where this species is an important seed disperser in its habitat. We are researching the survival skills of our wild founders (reaction to predators, foraging behavior, mate selection, communication), as well as their temperament, genetics, and stress response to inform reintroduction efforts. Early success is sweet, with our captive-born offspring already reproducing. We are excited to be finalizing the selection of our first release site, with the goal of reintroducing mice in 2015.

Twenty years ago, Anegada iguanas were declining and in serious danger of extinction due to the heavy predation of juveniles by feral cats. We partnered with the Fort Worth Zoo and the British Virgin Islands National Parks Trust in 1997 to begin raising hatchlings on Anegada Island until the juveniles were large enough to survive in the wild.  To date, 179 “headstarted” iguanas have been released on Anegada Island, nearly doubling the size of the wild population. As a safety net to extinction, a population has been established in US zoos, and translocated populations have been established in the British Virgin Islands. Our goals include removing feral predators from Anegada Island and restoring iguanas to some of Puerto Rico’s satellite islands, where the species historically occurred.

Ebo gorillas were identified in 2002 by San Diego Zoo Global researchers in Cameroon’s Ebo forest. Numbering less than 25 animals, the gorillas are isolated from the 2 currently recognized western gorilla subspecies and may represent a unique form of gorilla. In 2012, our Central Africa Program established the Clubs des Amis des Gorilles (Gorilla Guardian Clubs) which are voluntary community-run clubs in two villages located less than two miles from the gorillas’ habitat. Members monitor the gorillas’ range, record evidence of gorilla presence, and note any threats. They work on sustainable development projects in the communities, and they engage in outreach and education, with the aim of building a sense of pride in the gorillas and biodiversity of the Ebo forest. In 2014, we will establish a third club, sponsor the annual “gorilla cup” soccer match between all three communities, and develop a detailed map of the gorillas’ range. By gradually engaging the surrounding communities, we are working as a cohesive team to preserve these special apes. 

The mangrove finch is the most threatened bird in the Galápagos Islands. Threats to the remaining 60 to 80 birds include introduced rats, cats, and disease, with the grimmest hazard being botfly larvae, which infest nests, overtaking and eventually killing chicks. The lack of surviving chicks means the species could go extinct from an inbreeding depression or natural disaster. San Diego Zoo Global is partnering with the Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF) and Galápagos National Park to employ hands-on techniques to nurture eggs and then chicks until they are large enough to avoid botfly infestations. So far, our 3 nest collection trips have resulted in the successful transfer of 21 eggs and 3 chicks to the new facility at the Charles Darwin Research Station on the island of Santa Cruz. To date, 15 chicks have been raised and transferred back to a release aviary within the mangrove forest on Isabela Island. Once the birds are released, our CDF partners will use radio-telemetry and observation to monitor the survival of the birds.

In 1994, the ‘alala (or Hawaiian crow) population dipped to just 20 birds, and the species is extinct in the wild. Our Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program has been working with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife to turn the tide for this last corvid in the Hawaiian Islands. Thanks to the successful breeding program at our Keauhou and Maui Bird Conservation Centers, the ‘alala population has now increased to 108 birds. Our veterinarians and pathologists have provided expertise in care and disease management, and our geneticists and reproductive physiologists have played pivotal roles, analyzing 20 years of reproductive, genetic, and demographic data and investigating infertility and development problems. There is now great excitement about the possibility of releasing ‘alala back into the wild as soon as this coming fall.

Visiting the Zoo and the Safari Park and learning about these and other amazing species help our conservation efforts. If you want to do more to help, please visit us online at and consider becoming a Hero for Wildlife. Your participation can make a big difference for these and the many other species we work to save from extinction!


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