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Working Toward Species Conservation - History Of Species Protection

international nature endangered wildlife

Conservation has a long history. One of the oldest examples dates from 242 B.C.E. ("before the common era"), when the Indian emperor Asoka created nature reserves in Asia. Marco Polo reported that the Asian ruler Kublai Khan (A.D. 1215–1294) helped conserve bird and mammal species valued for hunting by banning hunting during their reproductive periods. He also helped to increase their numbers by planting food and providing protected cover areas. In South America, during the reign of the Inca kings, many species of seabirds were protected.

By the mid-nineteenth century many governments had developed an interest in wildlife conservation and an awareness of the need to protect natural habitats. In 1861 painters of the Barbizon school established the first French nature reserve, which covered nearly 3,458 acres of forest at Fontainebleau. Three years later the American government set aside the Yosemite Valley in California as a National Reserve. This became Yosemite National Park in 1890. Wyoming's Yellowstone Park was created in 1872 and became the first U.S. National Park.

Organizations and laws dedicated to the protection of species soon followed. In 1895 the first international meeting for the protection of birds was held in Paris, and resulted in new laws protecting species in several countries. The first international conference for the protection of nature was held in 1913. The International Whaling Commission was established in 1946, and two years later, The World Conservation Union (IUCN) was founded as the International Union for the Protection of Nature. (In 1956 that organization became the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, or IUCN. In 1990 the name was shortened to IUCN-The World Conservation Union.) In 1961 a private conservation organization, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), was founded. The Chinese giant panda was selected as the WWF symbol, not only because of the animal's great popularity, but also to reaffirm the international character of nature conservation, and to emphasize the independence of wildlife conservation from political differences. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), an international treaty established to regulate commerce in wildlife, was first ratified in 1975 in an attempt to block both the import and export of endangered species and to regulate international trade in threatened species.

In the U.S., Congress passed the Endangered Species Preservation Act in 1966, and the first species were listed in 1967. (See Table 2.1.) This established a process for listing species as endangered and provided some measure of protection. The Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969 provided protection to species facing worldwide extinction, prohibiting their import and sale within the U.S.

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