World Wildlife Populations Fallen by Half

The report states that wildlife populations today are 52% less than they were in 1970. In other words, in less than two generations, these populations have declined by more than half.

Earth Image: By NASA/ GSFC/ NOAA/ USGS [Public domain]

A new report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) has produced results that it says are “not for the faint-hearted.” It revealed that wildlife species all around the world are continuing to decline rapidly.

The Living Planet Report 2014 examined 10,000 different populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish – 3,000 species in total. The report states that wildlife populations today are 52% less than they were in 1970. In other words, in less than two generations, these populations have declined by more than half. The responsibility for this lies squarely with humans and our unsustainable consumption – overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution and global warming were all listed as reasons for these dramatic declines in numbers.

Professor Ken Norris, ZSL’s Director of Science said: “If half the animals died in London zoo next week it would be front page news. But that is happening in the great outdoors. This damage is not inevitable but a consequence of the way we choose to live.”

The most alarming decline in species populations was in freshwater ecosystems, according to the report. Since 1970, populations have dropped by 76%. Freshwater ecosystems have been hit hard – for example tens of billions of tonnes of effluent are dumped into the Ganges in India each year. Dams and the increasing removal of water also damage these ecosystems – there are more than 45,000 major dams measuring 15m or higher throughout the world, preventing the healthy flow of water.

On land, populations have fallen by 39% since 1970. An example given by the report was forest elephants in central Africa, where poaching rates exceed birth rates. Marine animals have also declined by 39% in the same time period. Turtles in particular have suffered from major declines – their numbers have dropped by 80%, because of deaths in fishing nets and the destruction of their nesting grounds.

Birds have not escaped from harm either. In Britain, the number of grey partridges fell by 50% since 1970 due to the intensification of farming, and in Australia curlew sandpipers declined by 80% in the 20 years before 2005.

The biggest declines were in developing countries but, although conservation efforts have improved population figures in developed countries, the importation of goods produced by habitat destruction in developing countries to wealthy nations means that they share the responsibility of the decline in biodiversity.

Humanity’s ecological footprint was calculated by the report, which shows the scale of our use of limited resources. At today’s average rate of global consumption it was calculated that we would need 1.5 Earths to sustain us. Looking at just the USA’s rate of consumption, that country would need 4 planet Earths to sustain it, and the UK would need 2.5 Earths.

David Nussbaum, Chief Executive of WWF-UK summed up the report and the lessons we must take from it: “The scale of the destruction highlighted in this report should be a wake-up call for us all. But 2015 – when the countries of the world are due to come together to agree on a new global climate agreement, as well as a set of sustainable development goals – presents us with a unique opportunity to reverse the trends. We all – politicians, businesses and people – have an interest, and a responsibility, to act to ensure we protect what we all value: a healthy future for both people and nature.”

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