Humanity has wiped out 60 per cent of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles between 1970 and 2014, a new report by the WWF has revealed. The devastating findings were released in the report, Living Planet, which has inputs from scientists from ZSL (Zoological Society of London), WWF, and other organisations who have been monitoring changes in the populations of thousands of animal species around the world since the last 20 years. The conclusion is that wildlife population is disappearing fast from this planet.
Earth is losing biodiversity at a rate seen only during mass extinction. Species population has declined significantly in the tropics, with an 89 per cent loss in South and Central America. As much as 60 per cent of vertebrate animals have been wiped out since 1970, while freshwater species numbers have also decreased with the Freshwater Index showing an 83 per cent decline during the same period. The report also explores three other indicators – measuring changes in species distribution, extinction risk, and changes in community composition. The results are highly concerning for all three.
Involving 59 scientists, the report uses data on 16,704 populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians, representing more than 4,000 species, to track the decline of wildlife. It found that the fast-growing consumption of food and resources is destroying the web of life and natural ecosystems, upon which human beings depend for clean air, water and resources essential for their very existence. As the report states, ‘All economic activity ultimately depends on services provided by nature, estimated to be worth around $125 trillion a year.’
The main factors behind this catastrophe are overexploitation of species, agriculture and land conversion, with climate change threatening to exacerbate the problem. Land degradation results in forest loss and impacts many plant and animal species. Two recent studies have shown the dramatic reductions in bee and other pollinator numbers, and the risks to soil biodiversity which is critical for food production and sustaining ecosystems.
The biggest reason for wildlife losses is the destruction of natural habitats, primarily to create farmland, followed by killing animals for food. Three-quarters of all land on Earth is now significantly affected by human activities. Chemical pollution is also a major contributor with half the world’s killer whale populations likely to die from PCB (a group of manmade organic chemicals) contamination.
The report called for a new, ambitious global deal to halt wildlife decline and tackle deforestation, climate change and plastic pollution, along with concrete commitments from global leaders and businesses to tackle wildlife loss, climate change and development in an integrated way.