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In late 2020 two men walking in the forests of Borneo caught sight of a bird they didn’t recognize. It had a prominent bill, chestnut back, black brow and white throat. They captured a live specimen, took pictures and sent them to expert birdwatchers. The news that came back would soon flash around the world of ornithology. It was a black-browed babbler, a species that had not been recorded for 170 years.

A naturalist collected an example of the bird sometime in the 1840s. No one since then had managed to document its existence. After the two men rediscovered it, a team of ornithologists travelled to Borneo to confirm the find. Last September they found a pair of the birds moving furtively through vegetation on the side of a cliff. The video they took shows one of the babblers dodging behind a rock. A creature feared lost to the world is back.

Discoveries such as these are glimmers of hope in what often seems like a dark landscape. Western Canada endured serial natural disasters last year. The Glasgow COP26 conference underlined the dangers of climate change. Germany’s chapter of the World Wildlife Fund recently warned that the world could lose a million species of animals and plants in the coming decades, “the largest mass extinction event since the end of the dinosaur age.”

Pessimism about the planet’s future is the order of the day. Many young people are convinced that the battle is already lost. It isn’t, and stories such as the babbler’s remind us that nature can prevail despite all the damage we have done. Scan the headlines and you can find many others like it.

In British Columbia, sea otters, all but wiped out by the fur trade in the 19th century, are returning to coastal waters, helping critical seagrasses to thrive. North Pacific right whales are occasionally being spotted, a promising sign for another species that was hunted to the brink of extinction. Humpback whales are staging a heartening recovery in B.C.’s Salish Sea. Travel on B.C. Ferries and you can sometimes glimpse them from the deck. Transient killer whales – distinct from the more threatened residents – are thriving. Two whales thought to be transients swam calmly past the seaplane terminal in downtown Vancouver one day last fall, their big black fins breaking the water.

Even the blue whale, the biggest creature on the planet, once hunted relentlessly, is coming back in some parts of the ocean. A previously unknown population with its own unique whale song was discovered in the Indian Ocean.

Pointing to good-news stories such as these is not an attempt to drown out the threats to the global environment with happy talk. The bad news is real enough. It is simply to say that all is not lost. Nature is at once fragile and resilient. With help, it can come roaring back. That’s worth remembering when signs of doom seem to fill the air.

While a staggering number of species remain at risk, many, such as the whooping crane, have been rescued from extinction. In rich countries, at least, the air and water are much cleaner than they were decades ago. Coyotes, foxes and deer roam many suburbs. Fish and other marine creatures are returning to once-dead urban waterways. You can go fishing again in Toronto Harbour, or watch the annual salmon run in local rivers. New York just finished adding 11 million young oysters to the waters off Lower Manhattan, the first step in restoring what were once vast and productive oyster beds. Attached to man-made structures, they will help filter the water and provide habitat for other forms of sea life.

It goes without saying that much, much more needs to be done. An alarming report in 2019 said that the number of birds in the United States and Canada has fallen by nearly one-third since 1970, a loss of three billion birds. Even encouraging stories such as that of the black-browed babbler have footnotes. Deforestation in Indonesia might yet put the long-lost bird in peril. And yet it survives, a tiny but cheering symbol of hope in a faraway forest.

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