WWF calls on governments to fast-track action on conservation, climate change and sustainable development.
New data released by WWF and ZSL (Zoological Society of London) today reveals that overall global vertebrate populations are on course to decline by an average of 67 per cent from 1970 levels by the end of this decade, unless urgent action is taken to reduce humanity’s impact on species and ecosystems.
Global populations of fish, birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles have already declined by 58 per cent on average since 1970. This is an average annual decline of two per cent, with no sign yet that this rate will decrease. Populations that have been impacted by human activity include those of African elephants in Tanzania, maned wolves in Brazil, hellbender salamanders in the USA, leatherback turtles in the tropical Atlantic, orcas in European waters and European eels in UK rivers.
The Living Planet Report 2016 is the world’s most comprehensive survey to date of the health of our planet. It highlights how human activities including deforestation, pollution, overfishing and the illegal wildlife trade, coupled with climate change, are pushing species populations to the edge as people overpower the planet for the first time in Earth’s history. However, widespread ratification of the Paris agreement on climate change, new restrictions on the international trade in threatened species including pangolins and African grey parrots, and conservation measures that are leading to increases in global tiger and panda populations indicate that solutions are possible.
Mike Barrett, Director of Science and Policy at WWF-UK said:
“For the first time since the demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, we face a global mass extinction of wildlife. We ignore the decline of other species at our peril – for they are the barometer that reveals our impact on the world that sustains us. Humanity’s misuse of natural resources is threatening habitats, pushing irreplaceable species to the brink and threatening the stability of our climate.
We know how to stop this
“We know how to stop this. It requires governments, businesses and citizens to rethink how we produce, consume, measure success and value the natural environment. In the UK, this demands a serious plan to strengthen protection for habitats and species and new measures to fast track low-carbon growth. Britain, like all developed nations, must take increasing responsibility for its global footprint. December’s conference on the UN Convention on Biological Diversity would be a good place for the UK government to signal that it’s serious about helping tackle the global loss of species.”
Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International said:
“Across land, freshwater and the oceans, human activities are forcing species populations and natural systems to the edge. We have the tools to fix this problem and we need to start using them if we are serious about our own survival and prosperity.”
Professor Ken Norris, Director of Science at ZSL said:
“Human behaviour continues to drive the decline of wildlife populations globally, with particular impact on freshwater habitats. Importantly, however, these are declines – they are not yet extinctions – and this should be a wake-up call to marshal efforts to promote the recovery of these populations.”
Food production to meet the needs of an expanding human population is a key driver of the overfishing, hunting and destruction of habitats that is causing biodiversity loss. The Living Planet Report details the enormous strain agriculture places on freshwater systems, accounting for 70 per cent of water use and a substantial loss of wetlands. While large food industry interests have demonstrated they can feed the world, the report makes clear that the challenge now is to do so sustainably.
This year, international scientists recommended that humanity’s impact on the Earth is now so profound that a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene – needs to be declared. And in the UK, the RSPB’s State of Nature 2016 report shows that over the last 50 years, 56 per cent of native species have declined.
Africa’s elephant population has crashed by an estimated 111,000 in the past decade primarily due to poaching. 2016 estimates suggest there are 415,000 elephants across the 37 range states in Africa.
The maned wolf, along with other large mammals including the giant anteater, is threatened by the increasing conversion of grasslands into farmland for grazing and growing crops in the Brazilian Cerrado.
The hellbender salamander underwent population declines of 77 per cent across five locations in Missouri between 1975 and 1995. Degradation of habitat from the effects of agriculture and the recreational use of rivers is believed to be the main cause of the decline.
Orca populations in European waters are under threat from persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Despite legislative restrictions on their use, these pollutants are still present in orcas’ blubber at levels that exceed all known marine mammal toxicity thresholds.
The leatherback turtle has become increasingly rare in both the tropical Atlantic and Pacific. For example, it declined by 95 per cent between 1989 and 2002 in Las Baulas National Park in Costa Rica. This decline was caused mainly by mortality at sea due to individuals being caught as by-catch and by development around nesting beaches. Similar trends have been observed throughout the species range.
The European eel is declining due to disease, overfishing and changes to its freshwater habitat that impede its migration to the sea to breed.
The White-backed vulture, long-billed vulture, slender-billed vulture and the Himalayan griffon have been decimated throughout South East Asia over the past 20 years due to the widespread use of the anti-inflammatory cattle drug diclofenac. The drug causes kidney failure in birds that eat the carcasses of recently-treated cattle.
The Yangtze river dolphin has declined largely due to incidental mortality by collisions with fishing vessels and entanglement in fishing gear An intensive survey carried out in China in 2006 failed to find any evidence that the species survives.
Gharial – India and Nepal: degradation of its habitat, accidental bycatch in fishing nets and harvesting of eggs have led to declines of this critically endangered species of crocodile.
Amphibians – global: A species of fungus that causes chytridiomycosis, a disease of amphibians, is implicated in the steep decline or extinction of more than 200 species.
Major Mitchell’s cockatoo underwent a precipitous population crash in Australia, largely due to the illegal taking of eggs for the pet trade. The population is now slowly recovering due to better enforcement of the law, but the species remains at risk from the clearing of woodland habitat and the destruction of nesting trees.
Tigers – Asia: around 3900 tigers are left in the wild facing threats of habitat destruction, climate change, and human wildlife conflict. The species is critically endangered
Amur Leopards - Asia: As few as 70 Amur leopards are left in the wild, facing threats of habitat destruction and human wildlife conflict. The species is critically endangered.
Giant Panda – Asia: 1864 giant pandas remain in the wild. Threats include human wildlife conflict and climate change. The species is listed as vulnerable.
Mountain Gorillas – Africa: 880 of the critically endangered mountain gorilla remain in the wild facing threats of habitat destruction and human wildlife conflict.
Conservation measures including the preservation of habitat and strict controls on hunting have led to population increases in Europe for the brown bear, grey wolf and Eurasian lynx. Populations have increased by 108 per cent since 1960, 303 per cent since 1970 and 495 per cent since 1963 respectively.
Notes to editors
WWF is calling on the public to show governments across the UK they want ambitious action now to protect the environment at home and overseas. To sign up and find out more visit: www.wwf.org.uk/lpr #ForOurPlanet
Living Planet Report 2016: Risk and resilience in a new era is the eleventh edition of WWF's biennial flagship publication. The report tracks over 14,000 vertebrate species populations from 1970 to 2012 through the Living Planet Index – a database maintained by the Zoological Society of London. Download the report and summary at: wwf.org.uk/lpr
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The thirteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP13) takes place in Cancun, Mexico, 4 - 17 December 2016.
WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.
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Founded in 1826, ZSL (Zoological Society of London) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity whose mission is to promote and achieve the worldwide conservation of animals and their habitats. Our mission is realised through our ground-breaking science, our active conservation projects in more than 50 countries and our two zoos, ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo. For more information visit www.zsl.org