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Where they rebuild nature

Six case studies – from Vancouver’s otters to Congo’s gorillas

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Humanity's footprint has grown so large that, increasingly, conservation means restoration of degraded landscapes and the reintroduction of species. Six case-studies with varying degrees of success show some hurdles and idiosyncrasies facing efforts to rebuild nature.

Conservation-minded leadership:

Costa Rica hosts 5 percent of the world's plant and animal species, more than Canada and the US combined. The government has worked for decades to conserve its natural heritage. One-quarter of its land is protected. And this pays off: Two million tourists visited in 2008, spending $2.2 billion – double what banana and coffee exports bring in. While deforestation remains a threat – and one species, Monteverde's Golden Toad, has disappeared – scientists cite the country as an example of what conservation-minded leadership can achieve.

The Philippine archipelago is what scientists call a biodiversity hot spot, hosting 1,100 land-dwelling vertebrates, half of which exist only there. But deforestation and poaching endanger one-fifth of vertebrate species and two-thirds of plant species. Some scientists take heart in a surge of home-grown conservation efforts that are credited with taking the lead in bringing the endangered Philippine cockatoo and the Visayan wrangled hornbill back from the brink of extinction in the past decade. New efforts are focusing on the Philippine crocodile.

Sometimes people prefer not to restore nature:

Sea otters were wiped out in British Columbia by the 1920s. Scientists reintroduced a few to Vancouver Island 40 years ago – and the population has grown to 3,000. But some indigenous communities aren't happy. Otters eat urchins and abalone, lucrative shellfish important to the local livelihood. With fewer grazing urchins, kelp forests have rebounded.

History may not be repeatable:

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