There is Old Blue, at one time the very last female black robin in the world who, with the help of an inspired biologist, saved her species from extinction. There is the individual tree, the very last of its kind, that, having been almost eaten to death by browsing goats, was killed by a forest fire -- yet found the energy to produce seeds on its last living branch. With the help of inspired horticulturists, the species sprang back, like the phoenix, from the ashes. It is these and many other human and other-than-human heroes that you will meet in the following chapters. There are tales of adventure and high courage, as biologists risk their lives to climb sheer rock faces or leap from wildly tossing boats onto jagged rocks, and pilots maneuver helicopters through forbidding landscapes in terrible weather. There are stories of men and women brought close to despair as they battled bureaucracies to try to save a species from extinction, knowing that delay caused by human obstinacy was lessening their chances of success with each passing day. There is an account of a man trying to persuade a falcon to copulate with his hat and another who mimics the courtship dance of a crane to persuade her to lay an egg.
Many of the rescue programs are ongoing even as we write. New generations of whooping cranes and northern black ibises are still being taught new migration routes, led by human devotees in flying machines. New breeding and release techniques for giant pandas, and better protection of wild habitat, offer hope for their future in China, but there is a long way to go. The plight of the Asian vultures that died in their hundreds of thousands from non-intentional poisoning is being addressed through captive breeding and "Vulture Restaurants" in the wild, but there is much, much work to do.
We realize that there are countless other programs going on around the world to conserve existing populations of animals and plants. But we had to pick and choose, and we included mainly stories that we knew about, firsthand. I wish we could include the efforts of the pioneer conservationists, such as Theodore Roosevelt, who established the first national parks and reserves for the protection of wilderness areas. Or write about the farsighted people who worked to protect the last of the beavers from an industry desperate to plunder their pelts for the making of hats. There are many who have fought to save other mammal and bird species from extinction because of our insatiable desire to bedeck ourselves with their skins, furs, and feathers. Koala bears might no longer be with us but for those who realized, back in the 1800s, that they would soon be gone if steps were not taken to save their eucalyptus forests. Indeed, there are countless species not even classified as endangered today that might well have become extinct were it not for caring people who protected them long ago. To those early pioneers in conservation we owe a great deal.
In October 2008 in Barcelona, Spain, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released results of a global survey of mammal populations. It concluded that "at least a quarter of mammal species are headed toward extinction in the near future." And tragically, for many, there may be little that can be done. Yet I have been so inspired by the stories included in this book and by the people who refuse to give up.