The 20th of March was World Rewilding Day! In honour of this, and to help you beat the post-bank-holiday blues, I have collected a hopeful handful of rewilding wins that 2024 has already witnessed just 3 months in! These range from airlifting tortoises back into the wild to ground-breaking new environmental protection measures. If conservationists, policy-makers, and environmental managers around the world are starting as they mean to go on, then 2024 looks set to be a great year for rewilding.

Close-up of a Galapagos tortoise in dappled sunshine.
Galapagos tortoise. Image credit: Alexa via Pixabay.

Early January- 136 giant Galapagos tortoises released on Isabela Island, Galapagos

Galapagos tortoises are an icon of the Galapagos islands and even gave the islands their name- an old word for tortoise in Spanish was galapágo. These large, slow reptiles also have an important role in the island ecosystems, dispersing seeds and helping to shape the landscape. However they have suffered heavy declines over the last few centuries- several subspecies have already become extinct- as a result of exploitation for food and other human-introduced threats such as habitat loss and invasive species.

The recently upgraded Arnaldo Tupiza Chamaidan Breeding and Rearing Center on Isabela Island aims to safeguard and strengthen wild tortoise populations through carefully monitored breeding and release programs. It also serves as an educational tool for tourists and other visitors, and a source of employment for the local community.

In partnership with the Galapagos Conservancy, the Galapagos National Park Directorate returned 136 juvenile captive-bred tortoises to the Cinco Cerros area on Isabela Island’s Cerro Azul volcano, transporting them via helicopter airlift! It is hoped they will go on to lead successful lives and boost the tortoise population on Isabela.

2nd January- Rights of nature guardians appointed to protect Colorado creek and watershed in U.S. first

In Colorado, campaigners have been calling for rivers to be given nature rights, encouraging greater consideration of ecosystem impacts in land-management decision-making. Save the World’s Rivers (formerly Save the Colorado) is a non-profit which emerged as part of this growing movement. The organisation created a rights of nature resolution for the Boulder Creek watershed, northern Colorado, in 2021, which was then approved by Nederland, a town within the watershed.

On January 2nd 2024, the town of Nederland took its dedication to protecting the rights of the Boulder Creek and watershed a step further and appointed two official “Guardians” of these rights. Alan Apt and Rich Orman will act as a voice for Boulder Creek and its ecosystem in legal discussions and government or corporate decisions which could affect the health of the river. This is a first in U.S. history; while nature rights have been recognised in other instances, guardians of these rights have never been appointed before in the USA.

16th and 22nd January- Chile and Palau ratify UN Ocean Treaty

The UN Ocean Treaty (also known as the BBNJ Agreement or High Seas Treaty), adopted in June 2023, aims to increase marine protected areas to cover at least 30% of global oceans by the year 2030. This historic treaty was the result of decades of international negotiations and campaigning from environmental organisations and marked an important step forwards in biodiversity protection. However, while 88 countries have signed the Treaty, it will only enter into force once it is signed and officially ratified by 60 nations.

Chile became the first nation to vote to ratify the treaty on January 16th. Less than a week later, Palau finalised their ratification, overtaking Chile. While these two nations are paving the way for official adoption of the Treaty, there is no time to lose. Another 58 nations need to have signed and ratified the agreement before 20th September 2025, the deadline for signatures, if it is to be enforced.

Greenpeace is calling on world leaders to commit to the Treaty urgently. Sign the petition here to show your support.

Portuguese livestock guard dog. Image credit: Daniel Allen via Rewilding Portugal.

Early March- 101st livestock guard-dog appointed in northern Portugal programme

The Iberian wolf (a sub-species of the grey wolf) has faced considerable decline in Portugal throughout the 20th century; today their population is estimated only around 300. One of the main threats to wolves in Portugal, as in many parts of Europe, is conflict with humans over livestock predation. To counter this problem, Rewilding Portugal has been working on a livestock guard dog programme. Farmers are provided with a livestock guard dog free of charge and with food and veterinary bills covered for the first years, plus advice and support with integrating the dogs into farm life. These dogs are of traditional Portuguese guard dog breeds with a long history of protecting livestock. The guard dogs are intended to deter the use of more violent and lethal measures against wolves, by facilitating a decline in predation.

Starting in 2020, the programme aimed to appoint 100 guard dogs to farmers who have suffered livestock predation or may be at risk. During the project, support for guard dogs as a livestock protection measure grew significantly. In the early stages the Rewilding Portugal team were confronted with some scepticism, but as time passed they found farmers needed much less persuasion and even began to volunteer to join the programme. Earlier this month, the 101st guard dog was handed over to their new home, marking a great success for this project.

Many farmers have reported no attacks since acquiring their guard dogs, and Rewilding Portugal will continue to monitor their progress.

20th March- Global Rewilding Alliance releases the Collective Impact Report

This 50-page document from Global Rewilding Alliance has been labelled the world’s first attempt to summarise the collective impact of the global rewilding movement. The Collective Impact Report presents rewilding as a steadily growing global movement, with increasing support and awareness from both public and media evidenced by the gathering number of publications, film and television productions, and google searches featuring the topic of rewilding.

The report also documents a range of case studies from across the rewilding movement’s timeline, which provide reasons for hope in the face of the global biodiversity crisis. These case studies include species reintroductions, population rebounds, ecosystem restorations, successful policy changes and international agreements, and even scientific rediscoveries of thought-to-be-lost species.

11 April- Missing Lynx Project, UK, launches interactive exhibition

The Eurasian lynx disappeared from the UK in medieval times, after losing vast areas of its habitat. About to be launched is an exhibition that will tour Northumberland, Cumbria and the southern Scottish borders, offering a chance to learn about the decline of nature, Britain’s lost lynx, and how the species has begun to recover in Europe. The Missing Lynx Project, a partnership between Northumberland Wildlife Trust, The Lifescape Project and The Wildlife Trusts, wants to use the exhibition to educate people and gauge opinions on lynx reintroduction in the very North of England. It is an area where recovering woodland could provide a great habitat for lynx, however local support is vital for successful rewilding, especially species reintroductions.

Education is a crucial first step in gaining support for rewilding projects. To paraphrase many naturalists, people are more inclined to protect the things they know and understand.

The exhibition will be an immersive, interactive experience with opportunities to take part in surveys and discussions, allowing people to have their say and also listen to opinions of others. The exhibition opens on April 11th– tickets are free!

Lynx. Image credit: Angela via Pixabay.

Be Curious!

  • Read the Galápagos Post for free to stay up to date on these amazing biodiverse islands.
  • Stand up for the rights of nature in your own local area! Not sure how? Rights of nature organisation For Nature has got you!
  • Check out Greenpeace’s interactive map for the UN Ocean Treaty!
  • Explore the LIFE Wolflux programme to discover the latest project for wolves in Portugal.
  • Read the Collective Impact Report in full! It can be downloaded here, scroll down until you see it.
  • If you live in the UK or plan on visiting, why not attend the Missing Lynx exhibition?

Featured image by SILKE via Pixabay.