An alarming new report from leading experts predicts over two-thirds of the world’s wildlife will be gone in less than four years. Late last week, the World Wildlife Fund published its 2016 Living Planet Report that warned the substantial decline in animal populations would continue unless significant action is taken immediately.
In the past 40 years, the numbers of fish, mammals, birds, and reptiles worldwide have declined nearly 58 percent. If this statistic is correct, wildlife around the world is disappearing at a rate of two percent per year.
“This is definitely human impact, we’re in the sixth mass extinction. There’s only been five before this and we’re definitely in the sixth,” said WWF conservation scientist Martin Taylor. “It’s because we’re using so much of the planet and we’re destroying so much of (these animals’) habitat.”
In addition to habitat loss, the WWF Living Planet Report blames abuse of natural resources, pollution, and climate change for the decline in wildlife population. Invasive species also contributed to the demise of wildlife in certain regions. The report used data collected from 14,152 populations of 3,706 species of animals, mainly fish, mammals, and birds.
Some areas were hit harder than others. Lakes, rivers, and wetlands have seen nearly 81 percent of animal species disappear since 1970. That is roughly four percent per year. While these freshwater areas only cover about 0.01 percent of the Earth’s surface, nearly one-tenth of all wildlife make their homes in this environment.
According to the report, elephants may be at a greater risk than any other species of wildlife. In less than 10 years, their numbers have dropped 20 percent. On the brink of extinction, sharks and rays have declined considerably as well due to overfishing.
The decline in wildlife populations not only has a negative impact on the variety of life on Earth, but also threatens the existence of humans. Taylor notes that something must be done now to keep the planet from dying.
“Governments (need) to take action to halt the slow death of the planet because it isn’t just affecting wild species it’s affecting us too. This is a threat to our future as a species, what we’re doing to the planet. We only have one planet if we screw it up then we’re gone.”
To prevent this imminent extinction from happening, governments worldwide must stop polluting and destroying fragile animal habitats.
“There’s a lot people can do even if they’re not wealthy or living in wealthy countries, such as using renewable energy, looking for certified sustainable products and most particularly talking to your members of parliament…saying you want strong environmental laws,” Taylor said.
Many conservationists found the WWF paper “misleading.” Stuart Pimm is the Doris Duke Chair of Conservation Ecology at Duke University. He thinks the 58 percent decline in wildlife populations just doesn’t make sense.
“It mixes what’s going on in the ocean with what’s going on in the land. It mixes studies of bird populations in Europe with mammal populations in Africa. It has very few data points in South America.”
Anthony Barnosky with Stanford University points out that the report says 66 percent of individual animals would be gone, not 66 percent of species. However, he does note that if this negative trend stays on pace, “extinction of lots of species is inevitable.”
The human population has now outgrown the planet, according to the WWF report. It now takes the equivalent of nearly two Earths to accommodate the needs of the human race. Analyzing the amount of resources needed by humans in a specific area, the report noted the largest “ecological footprints” belonged to richer nations like the United States, Canada, and Australia.
To slow the decline of worldwide wildlife, the 2016 WWF Living Planet Report suggests overhauling the food system to correctly balance the needs of the human race with the planet’s capacity. While changes like this may be “really, really hard” for governments and people to implement, the report’s authors warn it must be done before the planet decides enough is enough.
[Featured Image by Ian Walton/Getty Images]