50 years of Achievements

From its origins as a small group of committed wildlife enthusiasts, WWF has grown into one of the world's largest and most respected independent conservation organizations – supported by 5 million people and active in over 100 countries on five continents.

Over this time, WWF's focus has evolved from localized efforts in favour of single species and individual habitats to an ambitious strategy to preserve biodiversity and achieve sustainable development across the globe.
The evolution of WWF

This timeline provides a snapshot of just some of the many successes that WWF – working with a broad range of partners, including scientists, park managers, local communities, governments, other conservation organizations and businesses – has helped bring about as it strives for a world in which people live in harmony with nature.


In its first decade, WWF raised over US$5.6 million – an enormous sum in the 1960s.

Based on the best available science, this money was distributed as grants to support 356 conservation-related projects around the world – from wildlife surveys to anti-poaching efforts to education. Many of the animals and habitats supported by these early grants went on to become iconic conservation symbols, and continue to be a focus of WWF’s work. The popular fundraising appeals also, for the first time, brought conservation into the public arena.

1962: Research station established in the Galápagos Islands

In addition to becoming a leading scientific institution that has hosted researchers from around the world, the Charles Darwin Foundation Research Station – which a WWF grant helped establish – has played a central role in raising awareness amongst local people and the Ecuadorian government of the importance of preserving the Galápagos’ unique species. Together with other work by WWF and partners, this contributed to the passing of the Galápagos Special Law in 1998 and the establishment of the Galapágos Marine Reserve, the second-largest marine reserve at the time. WWF’s early recognition of the importance of awareness-raising has contributed in no small part to the current global level of environmental consciousness.

1963: Premier school for park management opens

A WWF grant helped establish the College of African Wildlife Management in Tanzania, which has since trained more than 4,000 park rangers and wildlife managers from over 50 countries in Africa and abroad in all aspects of protected areas management, including ecology, range management, and law enforcement. Recognizing that protected areas will only be successful if they are managed effectively, WWF has invested heavily in improving management capacity and skills in many hundreds of protected areas around the world.

1965: Southern white rhino range extended

With support from WWF, the East African Wildlife Society carried out a trial introduction of southern white rhinos from South Africa to Kenya – leading to the subsequent successful introduction and reintroduction of the subspecies to several other countries. The southern white rhino was the earliest to be affected by European game hunters and poachers supplying markets for rhino horn. Fewer than 20 individuals survived in South Africa in 1895, but determined anti-poaching and other conservation efforts saw numbers increase to an estimated 17,480 in 2007. Similar efforts for other rhino species in both Africa and Asia have seen black rhino numbers increase from around 2,500 in 1993 to over 4,100, greater one-horned rhino numbers increase from 600 in 1975 to more than 2,500, and Javan rhino numbers in western Java increase from no more than 25 in 1964 to 60. While these are huge conservation successes, some rhino species, subspecies and populations are nevertheless almost extinct and poaching remains an ever-present threat even for relatively secure populations. For this reason, all rhinos remain priority species for WWF.

1966: Wildlife survey in South America

A survey of the status of the spectacled bear in South America was amongst the first of many wildlife surveys that WWF has supported, and in later years helped carry out, throughout its history. These surveys have provided essential information for conservation efforts, such as the population size, distribution and ecology of particular species as well as habitat status and threats. In some cases, these surveys have even discovered species previously unknown to science – including three large mammals in Vietnam, a fish on Fiji’s Great Sea Reef and some of the 1,200 animals and plants discovered in the Amazon over the last decade.

1969: Land bought in Spain’s Guadalquivir Delta marshes

Purchased by WWF and the Spanish government, this land became Coto Doñana National Park – one of the world's first wetland reserves and an important site for migratory birds. Its establishment kicked off the protection of several other key sites along the Palaearctic bird migration flyway, from breeding areas in northern Europe to over-wintering sites in western and southern Africa. Coto Doñana is also an important refuge for other biodiversity, including two of the world's most endangered species, the Iberian lynx and the Spanish imperial eagle. Protected areas have formed one backbone of WWF’s work, with the organization supporting the establishment of over 1 billion hectares of protected habitat around the world to date.

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. 
© WWF / WWF-Japan/Ozaki Haruko
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.
© WWF / WWF-Japan/Ozaki Haruko


While WWF remained focused on species and habitat preservation throughout the 1970s, its approach began to change.

Instead of providing more-or-less ad hoc support to individual projects, it began encouraging more comprehensive conservation efforts for entire biomes as well as species across their range.

As part of this, WWF stepped up its engagement with governments and international environmental treaties and started to tackle some of the drivers behind environmental threats.

1971: Intergovernmental treaty for wetlands

Following several years of advocacy by WWF and others, 18 governments signed the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, which remains the world’s only international environmental treaty for a single biome. Aiming for both the conservation and the wise use of wetlands and their resources, the convention was also a forerunner of sustainable development principles. More than 1,900 wetlands covering a combined area of 186 million hectares are now included in the Ramsar list of Wetlands of International Importance, including the world's largest wetland, the 6.6 million hectare Ngiri-Tumba-Maindombe in the Democratic Republic of Congo. WWF continues to support the convention, particularly by encouraging governments to list new Ramsar sites. Indeed, WWF’s work at different levels has contributed to about 75% of new sites since 1999.

1972: Large-scale tiger conservation

WWF’s Operation Tiger was the first-ever global campaign to save a species across its range. One of its first outcomes was the launching of India’s Project Tiger, where a six-year national tiger conservation plan and 15 new tiger reserves saw the county’s tiger population increase by 30% in just seven years. Since then, Nepal, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Bhutan, Russia and China have also joined in tiger conservation efforts that continue to this day. However, a large- scale poaching resurgence from the early 1990s to supply markets for tiger body parts, combined with continued habitat loss outside protected areas, has left no more than 3,200 tigers alive in the wild. As part of its aim to double the wild tiger population by 2022, WWF launched the Year of the Tiger campaign in 2010. This culminated with an historic Tiger Summit in November 2010, where the 13 tiger range states gave crucial high-level backing – and various donors and other stakeholders pledged significant funding – to a Global Tiger Recovery Programme.

1975: Rainforest conservation starts

WWF’s Tropical Rainforest Campaign was the first-ever conservation campaign based on an entire biome rather than a single species or individual area of habitat. In addition to raising money for new rainforest protected areas in Central and West Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America, the campaign contributed to widespread recognition of the biodiversity and ecological values of rainforests and the threats they face. WWF has since played a key role in efforts to build protected area networks in priority tropical forests and achieve sustainable management of their resources.

1976: Regulation of trade in endangered species

To support the newly created Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), WWF and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) jointly founded TRAFFIC, a programme to monitor trade in wildlife and wildlife products. CITES currently covers some 30,000 plant and animal species and has 175 member countries, while TRAFFIC has grown into a global network with offices on six continents. Together, these two bodies have played a crucial role in strengthening wildlife trade controls and promoting the sustainable management of a myriad of species whose populations are threatened by international trade – from orchids and mahogany to lizards and birds. For example, a ban on international trade in ivory by CITES and ongoing investigations into the illegal ivory trade by TRAFFIC have helped eliminate some of the world’s major ivory markets. This led to reduced elephant poaching in Africa and the recovery of some populations following dramatic declines in the 1970s and 1980s.

Locals working on Lac Tumba in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a region that has become part of the worlds largest protected freshwater site following its recognition as a wetland of international importance by the Ramsar Convention.


By its 20th anniversary, WWF had supported protected areas on five continents covering 1% of the Earth’s surface and contributed to the continued existence of a number of species.

As impressive as this was, the organization realized that parks and crisis-led conservation efforts – while important – were not enough. Now with an expanded global presence and starting to run its own projects, WWF began more heavily promoting the ideas of its founders: that conservation was in the interest of people and needed to be integrated into, rather than viewed as in conflict with, development. These concepts laid the foundation for sustainable development, a philosophy that now permeates conservation, development, and even corporate strategies.

1980: First global sustainable development strategy

Published by WWF, IUCN and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and endorsed by the UN Secretary General, the World Conservation Strategy was the first document to integrate conservation and the sustainable use of natural resources. It was also one of the first to explain conservation objectives in terms of the benefits to people. More then 50 countries created their own national conservation strategies based on the strategy’s recommendations, and it formed the scientific and philosophical basis of the 1987 Brundtland Report which coined the term “sustainable development”. In 1991 the three organizations published the follow-up Caring for the Earth, which fed into the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and began the mainstreaming of conservation into world politics and development. WWF has since been part of the ongoing effort to implement sustainable development in practice.

1981: Research into toxic chemicals

Published in 1962, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring opened the world’s eyes to the dangers posed by environmental pollution, especially pesticides. WWF supported research into the effects of pesticides on species and ecosystems throughout the 1980s. In the 2000s, the organization raised public awareness of how toxic substances – including pesticides, industrial by-products and chemicals present in everyday items – are found in human bodies and even in animals living in pristine areas such as the Arctic. At a policy level, WWF contributed to the negotiation and entry into force of the 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, successfully campaigned for the 2001 Convention on the Control of Harmful Anti-fouling Systems on Ships and campaigned for strong EU chemical legislation (REACH). WWF is also a founding partner of the Africa Stockpiles Programme, which is working to eliminate huge stockpiles of obsolete pesticides scattered across Africa.

1982: Moratorium on commercial whaling

The Save the Whales campaigns of the 1970s made whales – victims of centuries of rampant, uncontrolled hunting – one of the most well-known and visible ‘faces’ of bad environmental governance. WWF had been working for a moratorium on commercial whaling by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) since 1965, and the majority of its efforts to protect cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) continues to take place within the context of the IWC. Later successes include the IWC’s declaration of a whale sanctuary in the Southern Ocean in 1994, which together with the moratorium has contributed to some whale populations recovering, and a 2003 resolution that extended the IWC’s remit to address all threats to cetacean populations, particularly incidental catch in fishing nets and climate change. However, nearly 2,000 whales are still hunted each year despite the moratorium. WWF therefore continues to seek a resolution to this issue that will benefit whales and promote the recovery of whale populations.

1986: Integrating conservation with development

Established with the help of WWF, Cameroon’s Korup National Park was one of the first to include local people in the planning process and to have a management plan that included sustainable land use practices and rural development within local communities. Such development has included teaching income-generating activities to village women and training local people as anti-poaching patrollers. WWF has since helped develop participatory management processes for, and integrate development into the management of, many other protected areas around the world. In addition to providing park management training and alternative livelihoods for local communities, this work also includes addressing issues of governance, gender, health and education.

1989: New mechanism for financing conservation

WWF pioneered the debt-for-nature concept, in which a portion of a nation's debt is bought in return for the country allocating an equivalent amount in local currency to conservation. WWF has helped negotiate a series of such swaps for Madagascar, from the first in 1989 to the most recent in 2008, which together have generated over $US50 million to preserve Madagascar’s rich biodiversity. These funds have been used establish new protected areas, build park management capacity, promote sustainable use of the country’s natural resources, and involve local communities in forest and coastal management. WWF has similarly helped facilitate debt-for-nature swaps in Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Gabon, the Philippines and Zambia. WWF has also led the development of other novel funding mechanisms to provide long-term financing for conservation and environmental management. These include a carbon finance project, conservation trust funds, and payments for ecosystem services.

1989: National giant panda conservation plan

As the first conservation organization invited to China, WWF has been involved in giant panda conservation since 1979. At this time, the outlook for the species looked bleak: just 1,000 individuals survived in isolated populations in a massively reduced and fragmented range. The conservation management plan developed by WWF and the Chinese Ministry of Forestry formed the basis of work to establish a connected panda landscape. This is now well underway, with 62 nature reserves covering 60% of current and potential habitat linked by ecological corridors that reunite dozens of panda populations. Overall, the Chinese government has committed to protect 3 million ha of panda forest in total – an area the size of Belgium – by 2015. WWF has also supported a number of community development projects to encourage sustainable forest use and management amongst the people living in panda habitat. As a result of these and other efforts the giant panda population has increased to an estimated 1,600. WWF has been similarly involved in creating connected networks of protected areas in many other countries.

Together we can make the world's oceans safe for whales. 
© WWF / Ogilvy Indonesia
WWF continues to work to protect whales from hunting, bycatch, and climate change.
© WWF / Ogilvy Indonesia


The 1990s saw more widespread acceptance of the global links between the environment, human activities and human welfare – as well as the value of biodiversity and the emerging threat of climate change.

These issues were explicitly incorporated in WWF’s 1990 Mission Statement, and have framed the organization’s on-the-ground and policy work ever since. Continuing the move from country-based projects to a targeted and more unified approach, WWF developed a global conservation strategy that focused efforts on the world’s most critical ecoregions and in six key areas – species, forest, marine and freshwater conservation, climate change and toxic chemicals. In addition to its long-standing relationships with traditional conservation partners, WWF also began to more actively engage with business and other new partners to promote sustainable resource management.

1992: Treaty to stem biodiversity loss

WWF was a critical player in establishing the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), an international treaty covering the conservation and use of biodiversity, and has since advocated for the adoption of strong CBD targets and work plans. In 2002, WWF helped secure a CBD commitment to significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010, and in 2004 was part of an NGO consortium that successfully lobbied for a programme of work on protected areas which, for the first time, included concrete targets and timelines. At the latest CBD Conference of the Parties in 2010, WWF similarly contributed to the adoption of a strong new 10-year biodiversity plan that includes commitments to protect 10% of oceans and 17% of land habitats by 2020 as well as a focus on addressing the drivers behind biodiversity loss. It also requires countries to account for the value of biodiversity within their national assets, opening up the way towards new, greener economics. Working with many partners, WWF has also helped national governments to implement their CBD commitments.

1993: Community-based natural resource management

Launched by WWF and development agency USAID, the LIFE project empowers rural Namibian communities to actively manage their natural resources. Organized as conservancies, the communities have legal rights over the wildlife on their land – and can directly benefit from their natural resources through tourism, managed hunting and other activities. With wildlife now seen as a community resource to be protected and managed instead of a threat or competition, poaching has significantly decreased and many animal populations have increased. The conservancies also provide valuable employment opportunities to these remote areas: in 2001, for example, they collectively earned nearly US$1.5 million in the form of wages, communal income, and profits on community- owned enterprises. WWF has similarly supported community-based resource management in many other countries.

1993: Certifying sustainable commodities

WWF was a key player behind the launch of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a pioneering certification scheme for forest products harvested according strict environmental, social and economic criteria. Starting in the forest and continuing through the entire chain of custody, the certification process promotes sustainable forestry and allows end consumers to be certain they are buying environmentally sound products. With WWF support, more than 130 million ha of forest, and 8.5% of forest products in international trade, are now FSC certified. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification scheme for wild-caught seafood, launched by WWF and Unilever in 1996, is a similar success, with over 100 fisheries now MSC-certified and 7,000 certified products available worldwide.

1997: Global efforts to curb carbon emissions begin

WWF helped design, and played a pivotal role in the ratification and entry into force of, the Kyoto Protocol, the world’s first international agreement to limit carbon emissions in industrialized countries. The organization has also secured significant private sector commitments to reduce carbon emissions. One of the first was cement-maker Lafarge, which in 2001 pledged to reduce its absolute gross CO2 emissions in industrialized countries to 10% below 1990 levels by 2010, as well as to reduce worldwide net emissions per tonne of cement to 20% below 1990 levels. In addition to promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, WWF is now working for an effective successor to the Protocol once its first period ends in 2012. The organization is also heavily involved in efforts to prevent greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, which is currently responsible for 15% of all emissions.

1998: First Living Planet Report

Now a biannual publication and prepared in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint Network, the Living Planet Report is one of the world's leading, science-based analyses of biodiversity health and humanity’s pressure on nature, or Ecological Footprint. The first report found that global biodiversity had declined by 30% since 1970 – highlighting for the first time that while the conservation movement had won many battles, it was nevertheless losing the war. The report also showed that humanity’s use of renewable natural resources exceeded the Earth’s capacity to renew them by 30% – a figure which rose to 50% by 2010. The reports have been instrumental in helping to raise awareness of the ongoing threats to biodiversity, the impacts of human activities on nature and the Earth’s ecological limits – and the stark consequences of “business as usual” on the future health and well-being of all people.

1999: Groundbreaking declaration for Congo forests

Alarmed by large-scale illegal logging, weak forest management and widespread poaching of wildlife, WWF convened the Yaoundé Forest Summit – the first-ever meeting of heads of state from the Congo Basin on the protection and sustainable management of the world’s second-largest rainforest. The resulting Yaoundé Declaration and a second summit in 2005 led to Africa’s first regional treaty on sustainable forest management, together with an inter-ministerial coordination mechanism for this. Over 4 million ha of new protected areas, two tri-national conservation complexes totalling almost 20 million ha – more than 10% of the Congo forest – and 4.5 million ha of FSC-certified forests have been created to date. A third summit scheduled for mid-2011 aims for further commitments, including projects to promote the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), expansion of the protected area network and FSC-certified forests, improved protection for great apes, and policies for the sustainable development of infrastructure such as roads and dams.

© Edward Parker / WWF
Game guards tracking rhinos, Torra Conservancy, Kunene, Namibia. The LIFE project in Namibia empowers rural Namibian communities to actively manage their natural resources.
© Edward Parker / WWF


The turn of the century saw WWF vastly upscale its ambition, aiming for transformational changes that lead to lasting conservation, sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles.

With twin goals of conserving biodiversity and reducing humanity's Ecological Footprint, the organization is drawing on the combined strength and expertise of its global network to create innovative partnerships that integrate on-the-ground conservation, high-level policy and advocacy, and strategic private sector engagement. These efforts are particularly focused on globally important areas and species, including vast areas like the Arctic and animals and plants important both for their habitats and for people, and tackling global challenges like climate change and bringing sustainability into global markets.

2002: Large-scale initiative to save the Amazon

With the world’s largest tropical forest facing massive deforestation threats, WWF worked with the government of Brazil and other partners to launch a 10-year initiative to preserve 12%, or 60 million ha, of the Brazilian Amazon. The world’s largest in situ conservation effort, ARPA (Amazon Region Protected Area) has already created more than 30 million ha of protected areas, improved management in 62 existing protected areas, and established a US$29 million conservation fund. This and similar efforts in other Amazon countries, including extensive work prior to 2002, mean that over 80% of the Amazon’s original forest is still largely intact. However, continued and increasing threats – particularly unsustainable cattle ranching and agricultural expansion – led WWF to launch Living Amazon Initiative in 2007. Carried out in partnership with a wide variety of stakeholders, this 10- year initiative aims to conserve the entire Amazon Basin through a combination of good governance, clear land tenure, sustainable commodity production, forest-friendly infrastructure development, and biodiversity conservation.

2003: Showing the economic value of nature

A WWF report estimated that coral reefs provide nearly US$30 billion in net benefits each year through their provision of goods and services to world economies, including tourism, fisheries and coastal protection. Subsequent reports looked at the value of other ecosystems to human societies: forest areas were shown to provide a cost-effective means for supplying high-quality drinking water to many of the world’s biggest cities, while the annual economic value of the world's wetlands was estimated at US$3.4 billion through their provision of food, freshwater, building materials, water treatment services and erosion control services. Such research has made a vital contribution to convincing governments and local communities of the true value of ecosystems and species. It has also boosted the development of payments for ecosystem services, where local people are compensated for the maintaining and managing natural habitats.

2008: Certified sustainable palm oil enters the market

Building on the success of the FSC and MSC, in 2004 WWF, other NGOs and the palm oil industry set up the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to develop standards and a certification scheme for sustainable palm oil – a key agricultural commodity whose enormously expanded production over the last few decades has come at the expense of vast areas of tropical rainforest. In 2010, just two years after it became operational, about 6.4% of global palm oil production was RSPO certified – a level of market penetration that took the FSC and MSC over a decade to achieve. WWF’s work on palm oil forms part of its efforts to transform 15 key global commodity markets towards sustainability, including soy, cotton, beef and farmed shrimp. In addition to helping develop sustainable production practices and standards, WWF is also working to ensure that the main companies buying these commodities implement sustainable sourcing policies.

2009: Securing a future for the world’s richest marine hotspot

In May 2009, the leaders of 6 nations – Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor Leste – committed to a comprehensive plan to conserve and sustainably manage coastal and marine resources within the Coral Triangle region, a vast area hosting 76% of the world’s coral species and the world's largest tuna fisheries. Incorporating WWF’s goals for the Coral Triangle, the plan aims, amongst other things, to establish a region-wide network of marine protected areas, achieve an ecosystem approach to fisheries management, improve income, livelihoods and food security for coastal communities, ensure sustainable exploitation of shared tuna stocks, and implement climate adaptation strategies. WWF is now working to help implement the plan, as well as build momentum for change in fisheries capture, trade and purchase practices through new partnerships and coalitions.

2010: The world’s largest environmental activism event

As part of its advocacy work, WWF harnesses the tremendous voice of its supporters to demonstrate widespread public support for WWF’s goals and apply crucial pressure on key decision-makers. Earth Hour – in which people, buildings, landmarks and entire cities switch off their lights for one hour to demonstrate support for action on climate change – has become the biggest such platform. The first Earth Hour in 2007 involved 2.2 million homes and businesses in Sydney, Australia; just 3 years later, hundreds of millions of people around the globe joined Earth Hour 2010, which reached about one in 6 people on the planet. WWF is using this unprecedented show of support as part of its efforts to convince politicians, governments and world leaders to secure an effective successor to the Kyoto Protocol and start making the necessary cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

© Martin Leers / WWF-France
The 'lights off' button waiting to be pressed wich will switch off the illuminations on the Eiffel Tower for Earth Hour on March 28th 2009, Paris, France.
© Martin Leers / WWF-France

  • Sir David Attenborough reflects on the early days of conservation and more specifically the work of Peter Scott, who was instrumental in the formation of WWF. Watch on Vimeo.