Animal populations have decreased about 68 per cent since 1970 as mankind shoves the planet’s life support systems to the brink.
Worldwide wildlife populations are dropping driven by human over consumption, population growth and intensive agriculture, according to a new report. Global populations of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles decreased by 68 per cent between 1970 and 2016, according to the WWF and Zoological Society of London (ZSL)’s biennial Living Planet Report 2020. Two years ago the number was 60 per cent.
“It seems that we’ve spent 10 to 20 years talking about these declines and not really managed to do anything about it,” said Robin Freeman, who led the research at ZSL.
“It frustrates me and upsets me. We sit at our desks and compile these statistics but they have real-life implications. It’s really hard to communicate how dramatic some of these declines are.”
The research was complied by 134 worldwide experts and is one of the most exhaustive assessments of global biodiversity available. The study reveals that rainforests of central America and the Pacific Ocean are being exploited and destroyed by humans on a scale never before recorded.
The analysis tracked global data on 20,811 populations of 4,392 vertebrate species. The figures showed that in all regions of the world vertebrate wildlife populations are collapsing, falling on average by more than two-thirds since 1970.
Latin America and the Caribbean recorded the largest drop, with an average fall of 94 per cent in vertebrate wildlife populations. Reptiles, fish and amphibians in the region were most negatively affected, driven by the over exploitation of ecosystems, habitat fragmentation and disease.
Experts said the LPI was further evidence that one million species are at risk because of human activity, according to the UN’s global assessment report in 2019. Changing wild spaces for human food production and deforestation are blamed for the destruction of Earth’s web of life.
The report reveals that almost 90 per cent of global wetlands have been lost since 1700 and 75 per cent of the Earth’s ice-free land has been significantly altered by human activity.
“Urgent and immediate action is necessary in the food and agriculture sector,” said Mike Barrett, executive director of conservation and science at WWF.
“All the indicators of biodiversity loss are heading the wrong way rapidly. As a start, there has got to be regulation to get deforestation out of our supply chain straight away. That’s absolutely vital.”
Only 25 per cent of the Earth’s terrestrial area have no human imprint and are in Canada, Russia, Brazil and Australia.
“We are wiping wildlife from the face of the planet, burning our forests, polluting and over-fishing our seas and destroying wild areas,” said Tanya Steele, chief executive at WWF. “We are wrecking our world – the one place we call home – risking our health, security and survival here on Earth.”
We need to become stewards of our planet, say experts.
“Doing so will require systemic shifts in how we produce food, create energy, manage our oceans and use materials. But above all it will require a change in perspective,” Sir David Attenborough wrote in a collection of essays that went with the report.
Even though the data reveals the decline of wildlife populations around the world, the index showed that some species can recover with conservation efforts. The Nepalese tiger and blacktail reef shark in Australia populations have been recovering.
“Whilst we are giving a very depressing statistic, all hope is not lost. We can actually help populations recover,” said ZSL research associate Louise McRae. “I feel frustrated by having to give a stark and desperate message but I think there’s a positive side to it as well.”
–Andreas Breitling photo
–Alberta Press staff