13 Good News Stories About Animals to Leave You Feeling More Hopeful

India’s Rhino Population Has Grown By 35 Times In 115 Years

illustration by carra sykes

India’s population of one-horned rhinos has grown by 35 times in just over a century, representing a conservation success story in a country where other species, such as tigers, have struggled.

From a population of just 75 rhinos in 1905, that number grew to more than 3,600 Indian rhinos by 2020, according to the World Wide Fund, a global wildlife advocacy organization.

The Indian rhino, called the greater one-horned rhinoceros, once roamed from Pakistan to the Indo-Burmese border and in parts of Nepal, Bangladesh, and Bhutan. But by the beginning of the 20th century, hunting and habitat loss had reduced the species to fewer than 100 individuals in northern India and Nepal.

Rhino poaching peaked in India in 2013 but has declined since, largely thanks to better policing and protection by the government and non-governmental organizations, according to the Indian Times.

Thanks to strict protection implemented by Indian and Nepalese authorities, the population has rebounded to the number we see today. In combination with continued protection and community engagement, spreading Indian rhinos out among more protected areas will create a larger, safer, and more stable population for years to come.

A Dog Is On Staff In A Florida Hospital To Sniff Out COVID-19

Three days a week, Buffy the yellow Labrador retriever greets visitors to detect COVID-19 on those entering the Doctors Hospital of Sarasota. If granted permission, Buffy sniffs the visitor’s feet, seeking a whiff of an active COVID-19 infection.

Very few people decline the offer when they see the yellow Labrador retriever with a wagging tail, the Tampa Bay Times reported. People generally don’t love going to a hospital, CEO Robert Meade told the publication, but, “Who doesn’t love labs?”

Buffy was trained by Palmetto-based Southeastern Guide Dogs as part of a four-dog pilot program for scent detection. The group has trained service animals for years and provided them for free to disabled veterans and people with vision loss. Scent detection, however, was new territory, the Times reported.

Small, early studies on dogs trained to detect COVID-19 in Europe — though still unproven — showed promise. So Southeastern decided to give it a shot.

Training dogs to detect the virus required actual virus samples. The hospital collected saliva samples from patients with active COVID-19 infections, and those samples were then “inactivated,” a process rendering them non-infectious and safe for research.

After three months of training, Buffy was 95 percent accurate at detecting the virus samples. The result is safer hospitals — and a much more comfortable experience for getting “tested.”

The Urban Bee Population In The Netherlands Is Steady Thanks To A Pollinator Strategy

The native wild bee population in the Netherlands has been declining since the 1940s, but recognizing the crucial role played by wild bees in the pollination of food crops, the government announced a national pollinator strategy in 2018, the Guardian reported. The strategy included 70 initiatives aimed at creating more nesting sites for bees and strengthening their food supply, which enables nature and agriculture to coexist.

Amsterdam has been working on various bee-friendly initiatives that include putting up “bee hotels," which are a collection of hollow plant stems or thin bamboo that provides space for bees to nest. And an entrepreneur launched Honey Highway, which collaborates with municipalities to plant wildflowers in the space available on the sides of highways, railways, and waterways, ensuring food and shelter for bees.

In mid-April, more than 11,000 people from across the Netherlands participated in a bee-counting exercise as part of the fourth edition of the national bee census, the Guardian reported. The results showed that urban bee populations are steady.

Bees and other pollinators are responsible for the pollination of nearly three-quarters of the plants that produce 90 percent of the world’s food, so conserving bee populations is essential not only to the species' survival but our survival, too.

Human Antibiotics Have A 95% Success Rate In Curing Coral Disease

Disease continues to be a major threat to coral reef health, but new research out of Florida shows great hope for common antibiotics used to treat bacterial infectious diseases in humans. 

A recent outbreak of an infection has affected 20 coral species. The disease has spread throughout Florida’s coral reefs and parts of the Caribbean Sea. Some reefs off of Florida  are experiencing as much as a 60 percent loss of living coral tissue area.

Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanography Institute found that treatment with amoxicillin, a common antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections in humans, was 95 percent successful in treating diseased Great Star Coral colonies, which are commonly found in the Atlantic.

The treatment, however, did not necessarily prevent the treated colonies from developing new lesions in the future. And the effects of putting antibiotics into the ocean are unknown: The fish-​-farming industry has faced criticism for using antibiotics and causing bacterial resistance in surrounding waters. Plus, the drugs can end up in marine food chains.

The Food and Drug Administration approved this promising research project, but further research is needed to understand the effects on both the ecosystem and the species, which will be particularly important because of the species’ high abundance and the colony’s role as the predominant reef builder in Florida’s reefs.

A “Pet Detective” Reunites Missing Animals With Their Owners

illustration by carra sykes

Bonnie McCririe-Hale is licensed in Texas as a private investigator, but she specializes in finding lost pets. 

She often works in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, along with her trained search dogs, Idabel, Kaio, and Buck, though she handles calls in other cities, including Houston, Austin, Oklahoma City, and Baton Rouge.

A missing dog years ago got McCririe-Hale into the pet detective business. A couple visiting from out of town had their car stolen — along with their dog.

The couple offered a $5,000 reward, and McCririe-Hale called to offer her help. 

She organized a group of volunteers to help find the animal, and after the couple hired someone to bring in a tracking dog for the search, she was intrigued.

“I was running along with the tracking dog and doing a little math in my head of how much [the investigator] made versus how much I made, and she looked like she was having a lot more fun with her dog,” McCririe-Hale told the Dallas Morning News. “I thought, ‘I’m gonna try this. I’m gonna figure out how you learn how to do this.’”

Now she’s been in the business for 15 years. McCririe-Hale’s cases are about evenly split between dogs and cats — but “we find so many more cats than we do dogs,” she said.

She works every weekend and nearly every holiday, and the job can be emotionally difficult when a pet doesn’t turn up or is found dead. But sharing the joy of reuniting pets and their owners “is just nothing short of spectacular,” she said.

“I don’t know anywhere else to get that,” she told the Dallas Morning News. “I just can’t find one other place in this world to observe or be part of or help to bring about that kind of joy.”

A Bill To Ban The Trade Of Shark Fins In The U.S. Was Reintroduced In Congress

A bill that would ban the buying and selling of shark fins in the U.S. was reintroduced in the House of Representatives this year on Earth Day by Representatives Gregorio Kilili Sablan and Michael McCaul.

Similar legislation was introduced in the last Congress, passing the House with widespread bipartisan support with a vote of 310-107 and garnering the support of 46 Senate cosponsors. But ultimately, action on the Bill stalled in the Senate.

Just as rhino and elephant populations have declined because of demand for their horns and tusks, the shark fin trade jeopardizes the survival of many shark populations.

A study published in January in the scientific journal Nature found that global oceanic shark and ray populations have declined by more than 70 percent over the last 50 years, citing overfishing as the primary cause.

The demand for shark fins incentivizes overfishing and shark finning, the cruel and wasteful practice of removing a shark’s fins at sea and then throwing its body back in the ocean where it drowns, starves to death, or is eaten alive by other fish. Most often, the fins are then used in “shark fin soup.” 

Although shark finning is illegal in U.S. waters, fins can still be bought and sold throughout much of the country. These fins are often imported from countries that have inadequate protections in place for sharks.

According to a poll released by Oceana late last year, nearly nine in 10 registered American voters oppose the practice of shark finning, and almost 80 percent support legislation to ban the sale and trade of shark fins throughout the United States.

As of today, 13 states, more than 45 airlines, 15 major corporations — including Amazon, Hilton, and Disney — and 22 shipping companies have refused to transport or trade shark fins.

A Record-High Number Of Humpback Whales Were Counted In Japan This Year

illustration by carra sykes

A record 1,087 humpback whales in 670 pods were observed migrating to waters off Amami Oshima Island in Japan between December 2020 and March 2021, according to research by the Amami Whale and Dolphin Association.

Humpback whales migrate to waters around the island in the winter to breed and raise young. Among the 670 pods were 105 pods with mothers and calves — also a record high. One pod stayed in the area as long as 48 days.

Research on whales began in 2014 as part of the Environment Ministry's cetacean research program. Confirmed whale numbers have been increasing for six consecutive years and exceeded the previous record of 971 whales in 578 pods last season. This season's count surpassed 1,000 whales for the first time.

Humpback whales spend their summers in cold waters off the Kamchatka Peninsula in northeastern Russia and migrate south to waters around Japan in the winter breeding season.

The species was decimated by commercial whaling in the 19th and early 20th century. But thanks to global conservation efforts, most humpback whale populations are no longer endangered, and the population continues to increase.

Denver Donated Bison To Indigenous Communities To Return The Animals To Their Historical Habitats

Denver Parks and Recreation gave 14 bison to Indigenous communities in April to help reintroduce the animals to their native habitat.

Thirteen of the bison are headed to the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes in Oklahoma, and an additional bison will go to Tall Bull Memorial Council in Colorado.

The donation is part of the City and County of Denver’s efforts to return the animals to their native homes while supporting conservation efforts on native land.

From the time Europeans arrived in North America, colonizers forcefully removed Indigenous communities from their land with deadly force. This move is one small act in conserving remaining Indigenous land and animals.

Denver mayor Michael B. Hancock told the Denver Channel the city shares a vision with Indigenous partners to return and restore wild bison to their historical habitats.

Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes governor, Reggie Wassana, said this donation is the result of a long history and relationship with the state.

“The tribes plan to use the donated bison as a cultural, conservation, and educational resource, with the goal of locating the bison on our own tribal natural plains habitat,” Wassana told the Denver Channel.

Instead of hosting its annual bison auction, Denver Parks and Recreation will work with its Indigenous partners to “select tribes across the country that will accept the bison to build and enhance conservation herds on tribal lands,” the city told the Denver Channel.

Herds of bison — which numbered more than 30 million individual animals on the continent at one point — were almost completely wiped out by European colonizers. By the turn of the 20th century, fewer than 1,000 bison existed on the continent, according to the city. Today, about 31,000 free-range wild bison live in North America.

Philadelphia Is Dimming Lights To Make It Safer For Birds In Flight

In March, lights in Philadelphia didn’t shine as brightly as usual as a coalition in the city underwent a scheme to prevent millions of migrating birds that pass through twice a year from slamming into skyscrapers and crashing to the sidewalk.

Bird Safe Philly announced in early March the Lights Out Philly initiative, a voluntary program in which as many external and internal lights in buildings are turned off or dimmed at night during the spring and fall.

The coalition  formed after the city’s largest mass collision event in 70 years was reported last October. Hundreds of dead birds were found around the city.

Birds navigate during migration using celestial cues, and when they can’t see stars on a cloudy night they get confused by bright city lights, NPR reported. Windows also pose a problem because birds might see a reflection of trees or the sky.

Scientists estimate between 365 million and one billion birds are killed by collisions with buildings or other outdoor structures in the U.S. every year, and those crashes take a toll on some species, NPR reported. 

The program runs from April 1 through May 31 and from August 15 to November 15. Property managers and tenants are asked to voluntarily switch off lights between midnight and 6 a.m., especially in a building’s upper levels, lobbies, and atriums. The initiative has the added benefit of reducing energy consumption.

The Building Owners and Managers Association of Philadelphia, which represents over 475 members who own or manage commercial properties or provide services to buildings, told NPR the response has been “extremely robust.”

The National Audubon Society established the first Lights Out program in 1999 in Chicago. Philadelphia now joins 33 other cities in enacting this type of program, including New York, Boston, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C.

In An Animal Welfare Breakthrough, Spain Is Giving Pets The Same Legal Status As Humans

Illustration by Carra Sykes for The Goodnewspaper

In a sign of growing support for animal rights in the global capital for bullfighting, domestic animals in Spain will now be considered “living beings” under law, instead of
mere objects.

One practical outcome of the change in law is that dogs or cats must be considered in the same way as children in divorce hearings or when inheritance or debt cases have to be settled by the courts.

In divorce hearings where judges decide who should have the family dog, they also must consider the welfare of the animal as they would do if they were dealing with children. Shared custody of the pet will also be an option open to judges, who must also decide who pays for vet bills and the animal's food.

Under the new law, mistreatment of pets will also be regarded as a crime as if the owner had abused another person. Additionally, if someone finds an abandoned pet, they have a public duty to try to locate the owner or inform the authorities as they would do if they came across a lost child.

France, Germany, Austria, and Portugal are other European countries that have already given pets the same legal status.

“We are changing our mentality and see animals as living beings with the capacity to feel pain, happiness, sadness and are nothing to do with a piece of furniture or a show,” Lola García, a lawyer who specializes in civil rights, told La Vanguardia newspaper.

Sandra Guaita, a member of Spanish Congress who presented the law to the parliament, said anyone who opposed the change would “deny the pain and suffering of animals."

“We should accept that animals are not objects [but that] they are living beings which feel and suffer,” she said.

The First Drug Developed Without Animal Testing Was Submitted For FDA Approval

Life-saving drugs continue to be developed every year, but to reach the market they are subjected to rigorous safety testing to ensure they pose no risk to humans. Currently, it's most common to test drugs on animals, such as mice, rabbits, or primates. 

Researchers from Hebrew University of Jerusalem believe it’s possible to test drugs without animals – and they’ve already demonstrated it by producing a promising cancer therapy without testing on a single animal.

Using a chip with human tissue on it, the researchers believe they can demonstrate safety and efficacy while bypassing the traditional animal testing stage and have now submitted their new drug to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approval. Their results were published in the journal Science Translational Medicine in February.

As the first drug to go through to approval without animal testing, if successful, this study could be a breakthrough in reducing the number of animals used in labs. With various technologies that simulate drug interactions available recently — including organoids, computer simulations, and more — the future of animal-free drug testing could be closer than we think.

“Getting a drug to the point of clinical trials normally takes four to six years, hundreds of animals, and costs millions of dollars,” lead author Yaakov Nahmias told The Times of Israel. “We’ve done it in eight months, without a single animal, and at a fraction of the cost.” 

“Extinct” Animals Are Sometimes Rediscovered

While species are disappearing at an unprecedented rate, a handful have actually reappeared, CBS News reported. 

Animals mistakenly thought to have been extinct, such as the Bavarian pine vole and the Lord Howe Island stick insect, are all known as "Lazarus taxon." (In the Bible, Lazarus came back from the dead.)

In reality, it's almost impossible to know that a final individual has disappeared. Ultimately, extinction is an educated guess. We're pretty confident Stegosauruses aren't still running around Colorado. But when it comes to smaller, more elusive creatures, it’s harder to know for sure.

"There's a big world out there, and there are a lot of places to hide," biologist Forrest Galante, who has made a career out of searching for these "lost" species, told CBS News.

Each episode of Galante’s Animal Planet show, "Extinct or Alive," focuses on a creature presumed to be long gone. While most episodes end without concrete proof of an animal's existence, in the Galapagos Islands, a promising piece of poop led Galante and local experts to the rediscovery of the Fernandina giant tortoise.

Because we are in the middle of a human-caused extinction crisis, reintroducing an "extinct" species is a rare chance to right a past wrong. And habitat conservation, which we can actively prioritize, can revitalize endangered species and prevent extinction altogether.

A 17-Year-Old Pilot Flies Across New Mexico Rescuing Animals From Shelters

An Albuquerque high school student got his pilot’s license in December and is already using it for good. He rescues and flies animals all over New Mexico, saving them from being euthanized.

A nonprofit called Barkhouse in Las Cruces, New Mexico, has more pets that it has room for, so they help get these animals to cities where there are eager adopters but fewer pets to adopt.

After the nonprofit’s go-to pilot had an issue with a plane engine, they started asking for help from the flight community. Now, they’re working with SAMS Academy Aviation to fly these rescue missions — while giving students much-needed flight time.

“We realized we have this perfect opportunity where we have students who need cross-country flight time,” Lauren Chavez, chief flight instructor at SAMS Academy Aviation, told KRQE.

Cody Anderson, a 17-year-old high school student and pilot, helped transport 22 puppies and two adult dogs from Las Cruces to Albuquerque. From there, another pilot in the “relay mission” took them to Aurora, Colorado.

The academy says the best part of this collaboration is that the dogs aren’t going from shelter to shelter. These transports are taking them straight to their forever homes. 

The academy has only done flights with dogs so far but hopes to start transporting cats and other animals in the near future.

Article Details

September 2, 2021

Good News for Southern Ocean’s Marine Life: Industry Halts Krill Fishing in Hope Bay

It’s fitting that ARK’s voluntary fishing closure includes Hope Bay because it represents new hope for Adélie penguins. Several of the world’s largest mega-colonies of these penguins live in this part of the Antarctic Peninsula, relying on krill as a prime source of forage food.

Healthy Salt Marshes Harbor Rich Biodiversity — And Help Fight Climate Change

Along temperate coasts, the effects of climate change—including sea-level rise, erosion, and more frequent and stronger storms—are threatening a vital habitat that offers one of the best natural defenses against those perils.
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