Animal populations have declined on average by nearly 70% since 1970, report shows Wildlife

In less than 50 years, the Earth’s wildlife population has declined by an average of 69 percent, according to a leading scientific assessment, as humans continue to clear forests, consume beyond the planet’s limits, and cause industrial-scale pollution.

From the open ocean to rainforest, bird, fish, amphibian and reptile populations are in free fall, declining on average between 1970 and 2018, according to Life at the WWF and Zoological Society of London (ZSL) Biennale more than two-thirds of the planet reported. Two years ago, that number was 68 percent, and four years ago it was 60 percent.

Many scientists believe that we’re experiencing a sixth mass extinction — the largest loss of life on Earth since the age of the dinosaurs — and that it’s driven by humans. The report’s 89 authors urged world leaders at the Cop15 biodiversity summit in Canada in December to reach an ambitious deal and cut carbon emissions to limit global heating temperatures this decade to below 1.5 degrees Celsius to stop rampant destruction of nature.

The Living Planet Index combines global analysis of 32,000 populations of 5,230 animal species to measure changes in wildlife abundance across continents and taxa, producing a graph similar to the Living Planet Index.

Latin America and the Caribbean, including the Amazon, saw the largest decline in average wildlife population size, down 94 percent over 48 years. Tanya Steele, chief executive of WWF UK, said: “This report tells us that Latin America has experienced the worst decline, home to the Amazon, the world’s largest tropical rainforest. Deforestation is accelerating there. , which robs not only the trees of this unique ecosystem, but the wildlife that depends on them and the ability of the Amazon to be one of our greatest allies in the fight against climate change.”

A set of graphs showing the decline in biodiversity in 5 regions of the world since 1970

Africa came in second with a 66% drop, followed by Asia and the Pacific with a 55% drop and North America at 20%. Europe and Central Asia fell 18%. The total loss is similar to the loss of population in Europe, the Americas, Africa, Oceania and China, the report said.

“Despite science, catastrophic predictions, impassioned speeches and promises, burning forests, submerged countries, record temperatures and the displacement of millions, world leaders continue to watch our world burn before our eyes, ‘ said Steele. “Climate and natural crises, whose fates are intertwined, are not distant threats that our grandchildren will address with technologies yet to be discovered.”

She added: “We need our new Prime Minister to show that the UK is serious about helping people, nature and the economy thrive, ensuring that every promise of our world is fulfilled. Failures are neither forgotten nor forgiven. “

A young lion looks at the city skyline of Nairobi National Park
A young lion looks out over the city skyline in Nairobi National Park. Lions are listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and there may be as few as 23,000 in the wild. Photo: Tony Calumba/AFP/Getty Images

Leading nature charities have accused Liz Truss of putting the economy ahead of nature conservation and the environment, and fears rare flora and fauna could be lost when she promises a “bonfire” of red tape in the EU later this year.

According to the report, not all countries have the same starting point for natural decline, according to the Biodiversity Integrity Index, while the UK’s biodiversity richness is only 50% of historical levels, making it one of the most naturally depleted countries in the world. superior.

Land-use change remains the most important driver of global biodiversity loss, the report said. Mike Barrett, Executive Director of Science and Conservation at WWF-UK, said: “Globally, the decline we are seeing is largely driven by the loss and fragmentation of habitats by global agricultural systems and the transition to intact habitats. driven by the expansion of the transformation of the land. It comes to produce food.”

The researchers stress that it is increasingly difficult for animals to move across the terrestrial landscape due to blocked infrastructure and farmland. Of rivers over 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) long, only 37 percent remain free-flowing along their entire length, and only 10 percent of the world’s terrestrial protected areas are connected.

Future declines are not inevitable, the authors say, pointing to the Himalayas, Southeast Asia, the east coast of Australia, the Albertine Rift and Eastern Arc Mountains in eastern Africa, and the Amazon Basin as priority areas.

IUCN is also developing a measure of an animal’s conservation potential, called its green status, which will allow researchers to develop recovery paths for some of the planet’s 1 million species threatened with extinction. In a study last year, pink pigeons, burrowing betons and Sumatran rhinos were highlighted as species with good conservation potential.

A wild pink pigeon in the Black River Gorge National Park, Mauritius
A wild pink pigeon in the Black River Gorge National Park, Mauritius – identified as a species that could benefit from conservation efforts. Photo: Mauritius Wildlife Photography/Alamy

Robin Freeman, head of metrics and assessments at ZSL, said it was clear that humans were eroding the foundations of life and urgent action was needed. “To see any bend in the biodiversity loss curve…it’s not just about conservation, it’s about changing production and consumption – the only way we can legislate or call for this is to make these clearly measurable The goal is to restore abundance, reduce extinction risk, and stop extinction at Cop15 in December.”

The title of this article was revised on October 13, 2022. The 70 percent figure relates to the average decline in a range of animal populations since 1970, not the percentage of animal populations that had been “extinct” since then, as the earlier version said.

Find out more about the age of extinction here, and follow biodiversity reporters Phoebe Weston and Patrick Greenfield Get all the latest news and features on Twitter

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