Conservation highlights of 2023

Celebrating efforts to tackle the most critical issues at the intersection of nature, people, and climate

Fishing boat on water with grassy hills behind

Protecting wildlife, wild places, and people is more important than ever as we face a rapidly warming planet and declining biodiversity. But even amid these challenges, WWF, our partners, and our supporters continue to create a brighter future in which we stop the destruction of nature and restore it where we can. 

From launching a new platform that harnesses the power of nature in the fight against the climate crisis to raising critical funding to protect black rhinos in Namibia, together we've taken major strides in 2023.

Take a look at some of this year's conservation highlights.

New tiger population estimate of 5,574 wild tigers announced by Global Tiger Forum
Back in 2010, with wild tiger numbers at an all-time low of about 3,200 individuals, the world’s 13 tiger range countries—with support from conservation partners including WWF—made a global goal to double wild tiger numbers. Today, the new population estimate from the Global Tiger Forum is about 5,574 wild tigers. Notable advancements in how we invest in and monitor tigers can be seen in this new number which demonstrates about a 74% increase since 2010.

Heritage Colombia supports creation of new protected area
The Colombian Government declared a new national natural park in the Manacacías Mountain Range. The nearly 170,000-acre park boasts a diversity of ecosystems, from savannahs and gallery forests to wetlands and lagoons. It is home to deeply rooted communities and hundreds of species of birds, amphibians, and mammals. The new park is located in a region with a high concentration of industrial agriculture and mining, making it a critical safe haven for nature. The creation of the park was made possible with support from Heritage Colombia, a Project Finance for Permanence (PFP) initiative that secures the lasting conservation of 79 million acres across the country.

The climate crisis will lead to conflict at sea. A new platform helps predict where—and how to prevent it.
As our planet continues to rapidly warm because of human activity, it's all but certain that conflict over precious natural resources will rise—and the world's fisheries are no exception. This will significantly impact coastal communities and change geopolitical relationships among and between countries. Fortunately, we have an opportunity to predict and prevent future clashes over ocean resources and their fallout. WWF announced the launch of our Oceans Futures platform, a first-of-its-kind initiative that uses global climate and fisheries models to highlight 20 regions of the world that will likely see greater conflict, food insecurity, or geopolitical tensions over ocean resources by 2030. Designed to identify the inevitable challenges fisheries will face, this early warning tool enables the international community to take bold, collaborative action on conservation and conflict prevention for a more peaceful future for people and nature.

Indigenous Peoples in Nepal now hold the reins to decisions about their lands and resources
In an important advancement for Indigenous rights in Nepal, the country’s government now has national guidelines for implementing Free, Prior, and Informed Consent—a vital tool for Indigenous peoples to exercise their rights to self-determination regarding their lands and resources. The guidelines, developed by Nepal’s National Foundation for Development of Indigenous Nationalities, with support from WWF, seek to enable Indigenous communities to modify or stop conservation planning that may have detrimental impacts on people or resources within their territory. Further, the guidelines emphasize that communities should be involved from start to finish in decision-making around projects that impact them and that such projects should seek to promote equitable benefits from conservation.

Native Nations continue to lead the way in returning bison to their traditional homelands
Building off work dedicated to bison conservation in the Northern Great Plains, WWF has embarked on a groundbreaking Native-led collaboration to restore bison to Tribal lifeways and landscapes. This developing, historic public-private partnership, which was noted during the 2023 White House Tribal Nations Summit, includes the U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Native Americans in Philanthropy, InterTribal Buffalo Council, and The Nature Conservancy, with the expectation that more groups will join this ambitious effort. The goal is to increase support for Native-led bison conservation and related economic development, community engagement and policy efforts.

Countries aim to halt global decline in river dolphins and enhance the health of their great rivers
River dolphins—the charismatic and iconic animals living in some of the world's greatest river systems—face a barrage of threats. Since the 1980s, their population numbers have plummeted by 73%, with water infrastructure, unsustainable fishing, and pollution threatening their existence. In October, governments with river dolphins within their borders came together to pledge to halt and reverse the decline of all river dolphin populations in both Asia and South America and increase the population where they are most threatened. Under the Global Declaration for River Dolphins, countries will implement specific actions that will tackle threats to the species, improve and preserve their habitat, and effectively manage a network of protected areas, among other conservation interventions.

WWF launches platform to help harness the power of nature-based solutions to fight the climate crisis
Nature is fundamental to human survival and economic prosperity. And nature-based solutions—natural systems or processes used to help achieve societal goals—have incredible climate mitigation potential. That’s why WWF established the Nature-Based Solutions Origination Platform (NbS-OP) to create a new model of scaling up, aligning, and mobilizing public and private investments in high-quality nature-based solutions under an integrated landscape finance approach.

WWF and partners launch collaboration to develop new ways to value data about our planet
With the rapidly increasing development of satellite and other technologies, scientists are now able to gather increasingly sophisticated and detailed information about how the Earth’s physical, chemical, and biological (and many aspects of societal) systems behave. This information, called Earth Observations, can provide real-time, globally available, and publicly accessible information for decision-makers to track current and future natural impacts and prioritize which actions to take for their localities. Together with NASA, NOAA, and USGS, the Collaborative Network for Valuing Earth Information (CONVEI), directed by WWF, will investigate the full potential of earth observations to support a more sustainable and just future, and how we can leverage it.

New WWF partnership will enhance climate resilience in Pakistan
Catastrophic flooding in Pakistan in recent years has demonstrated the urgency of the climate crisis. The Recharge Pakistan project, a public-private partnership to enhance Pakistan’s resilience to climate change by improving water systems and investing in green infrastructure, received major funding commitments this year from USAID, the Green Climate Fund, the Coca-Cola Foundation, and WWF. The $77.8 million partnership is the largest investment at the national level to date in an ecosystem-based approach to flood and water resources management.

First guide to help conserve 30% of Earth’s lands and waters by 2030 released
Last year, more than 190 countries approved a United Nations agreement to halt and reverse nature loss by 2030, including conserving 30% of Earth’s lands and waters, with recognition of and respect for Indigenous and traditional territories and rights. Often referred to as 30x30, Target 3 of the Global Biodiversity Framework represents a shared global commitment that is galvanizing action at an unprecedented scale. In August, WWF, IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, and The Nature Conservancy, with funding from the Global Environmental Facility, launched the first guide to support governments and many other actors to contribute to this complex target in ways that are inclusive, equitable, and effective. The guide provides practical advice about planning for and implementing 30x30, engages with the details of each element of the target, and makes recommendations for how to integrate pieces into existing plans around biodiversity and climate response.

In good news for elephants, Africa’s largest savanna elephant population is stable
WWF and multiple partners supported the first synchronized transboundary aerial survey to determine the number and distribution of Africa’s largest savanna elephant population in the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area. The coordinated survey estimated a relatively stable and slightly increased total population of 227,900, compared with surveys that were incorporated into the 2016 African Elephant Status Report.

EPA blocks catastrophic mining project in Bristol Bay, Alaska
For decades, a proposed mine in the headwaters of Alaska’s wildlife-rich Bristol Bay threatened miles of salmon streams and thousands of acres of wetlands, ponds, and lakes. Native landowners, supported by a coalition led by The Conservation Fund and included WWF and other funders, raised $20 million to purchase a conservation easement on 44,000 acres owned by an Alaska Native corporation. Announced in December 2022, the easement will permanently protect the land—safeguarding vital salmon rivers and bisecting the route of a proposed road from the mine site to a deepwater shipping port. In January 2023, the US Environmental Protection Agency took a major step toward further securing the bay protecting Alaska’s wildlife-rich Bristol Bay by banning the disposal of mine waste in the proposed Pebble Mine area. Over the years, more than 650,000 WWF supporters have signed petitions aimed at stopping the mine and securing the lands and waters that support wildlife, the salmon fishery, and Alaska Native communities.

US signs $20 million debt-for-nature swap with Peru to support Amazon conservation
In September, the US and Peruvian governments, along with four non-governmental organizations that included WWF, finalized a debt-for-nature swap under the Tropical Forest and Coral Reef Conservation Act, a landmark law now in its 25th year that has helped protect nature in developing countries while relieving economic burdens. The swap unlocks new financing to protect the Peruvian Amazon rain forest, which covers 60% of the country, and bolsters Peru’s Natural Legacy (Patrimonio Natural del Perú), which supports the conservation of some 39.5 million acres through the innovative Project Finance for Permanence (PFP) approach.

Namibia Rhino campaign is fully funded
Namibia’s Etosha National Park is home to the largest population of black rhinos left on earth. The rhinos there are the donor population for many innovative and successful efforts to expand the range and number of rhinos nationwide. But this success makes Etosha and its rhinos a target for armed poachers and international wildlife crime syndicates that kill them for their horns. Fortunately, WWF supporters rallied together to raise $500,000 in support of the Namibian government’s urgent antipoaching plan in Etosha, including training a sniffer dog unit, building housing for their Wildlife Protection Service staff, and establishing a horse unit to help rangers patrol the park’s remote areas and track poachers.

Indigenous Wafo Wapi alliance petitioned to sustainably manage Chile’s Guafo Island
Guafo Island off Chile’s Patagonian coast is home to the largest breeding colony of sooty shearwaters in the world, and the surrounding waters are an important feeding ground for migratory cetaceans, including blue, sei, and killer whales. Ten Indigenous communities petitioned the Chilean government for the right to protect the island and surrounding waters. Called Wafo Wapi, the alliance aimed to manage the area under a Chilean law—known as Espacio Costero Marino para Pueblos Originarios—that recognizes the traditional use of coastal and marine spaces by Chile’s Indigenous peoples. In 2023, WWF built on this model to develop an inclusive consultation and implementation plan to determine where and how to support other Patagonian coast communities in sustainably managing their resources.

US and 66 other countries sign an agreement to protect international waters
In September, 67 countries, including the US, signed the UN High Seas Treaty to protect international waters by creating marine protected areas and ensuring human activity on the high seas, including mining of the seabed, is subject to environmental impact assessments. This historic treaty is a major step forward in reaching the global community's target of conserving at least 30% of the ocean by 2030. WWF engaged with the State Department on the development of the treaty and coordinated with WWF International on engagement with the United Nations to advance these important protections for international waters. At least 60 countries must sign and ratify the Treaty for it to come into force and become binding international law.

New analysis from WWF and BCG quantifies value of energy transformation to human well-being
To limit the worst impacts of the climate crisis, we need to drastically change the way we produce energy around the world. Transformation of the energy sector requires global systemic change that combines all necessary changes at a local, regional, and national level. This first-of-its-kind analysis shows that a rapid transition to renewable energy is dramatically better for nature, human health and safety, and jobs.

World leaders release first draft of plan to tackle global plastic pollution
At international negotiations to address plastic pollution, nations moved closer to a global treaty by discussing the content of the first iteration—called the ‘Zero Draft—and debating what should be included within the scope of the agreement. While nations did not agree on the work that should be done before the next international negotiations in Ottawa, Canada, these talks showed that the majority of states want the treaty to address the entire lifespan of plastic and that businesses support the establishment of global rules to maximize environmental outcomes. To date, more than 30,000 WWF activists have signed a petition calling for an ambitious treaty from global leaders.

Zero Food Waste Coalition releases new toolkit to advance food waste reduction policies
The Zero Food Waste Coalition—a group led by WWF, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Harvard Food Law Policy Clinic, and ReFED that engages with policymakers on opportunities to prevent and reduce food loss and waste—developed a toolkit designed to provide state policymakers and advocates with real-world recommendations and model policies to reduce food waste, hunger, and the impacts of climate change in their communities. This resource comes at a critical time: up to 40% of food in the US is unsold or uneaten annually, while nearly one in 10 Americans is food insecure. Households, food producers, and other businesses spend $444 billion each year to grow, process, transport, and dispose of food that is never eaten—using precious natural resources in the process and generating about 380 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions each year. By helping more states to take action on food waste and correct this massive inefficiency in our supply chain, the coalition hopes to accelerate the circular food system transition and help a broad coalition of businesses and communities to save money in the process.

WWF, USAID, and the government of Viet Nam take major steps to decrease wildlife crime
Community-led patrol teams removed thousands of snares from protected areas in Viet Nam this year as part of a WWF-USAID partnership. Largely driven by the demand for wild meat for income, snaring threatens endangered species, including civets and pangolins. The partnership is working to maintain and increase forest quality and protect and stabilize wildlife populations in protected areas. This five-year, $43 million project is the single largest ever investment in biodiversity conservation in Viet Nam. The project has also been supporting the largest-ever biodiversity camera trap surveys across Viet Nam.

Lawmakers reintroduce bill to keep deforestation out of US markets
In December, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Senate and House reintroduced the Fostering Overseas Rule of Law and Environmentally Sound Trade (FOREST) Act, a bill that WWF helped shape. This landmark legislation would require importers to remove illegal deforestation from cattle, palm oil, soy, cocoa, and rubber products coming into the United States, a game changer to curb deforestation, promote supply chain transparency and traceability, and support developing countries.

New work from the RTC builds on pathways to decarbonize US industry by 2050
The Renewable Thermal Collaborative—co-convened by WWF, C2ES, and David Gardiner & Associates—serves as the global coalition for companies, institutions, and governments committed to scaling up renewable heating and cooling at their facilities to cut carbon emissions dramatically. Building on last year's groundbreaking Renewable Thermal Vision Report, the organization released several resources in 2023 to help chart the path to decarbonizing industrial thermal energy use—the third-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Materials included: Green Hydrogen Technology Assessment, Electrification Roadmap, and Playbook for Decarbonizing Process Heat in the Food and Beverage Sector.

A collaborative workshop in Mexico helped communities tell their stories through photography
In March 2023, WWF hosted a collaborative, inclusive, and participatory photography workshop with seven community members of Dzilam de Bravo in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Over the course of the week, the participants used photography as a storytelling tool to reflect on their connection to their community and coastal ecosystems. The workshop was designed to prioritize the availability and interests of the participants and as a result, the photographers each built up their storytelling skills by photographing around Dzilam. At the end of the week, they presented photographs highlighting stories about their families, conservation, and the highs and lows they and their fellow community members experience living in a small coastal town. The participants' varied backgrounds—ranging from members of a mangrove restoration team, to a student and teacher, to beekeeping co-owners—offered varied perspectives and built new connections within the workshop cohort and broader community.