Global Wildlife Populations Have Fallen By Nearly 70 Percent In Under 50 Years, Major Report Reveals

ILUKA, NSW / AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 29, 2020: A kangaroo peaks through the burned forest after a bushfire in Iluka, Australia. Anna LoFi/Shutterstock

The natural world is in "freefall" with global wildlife populations dropping by almost 70 percent in less than 50 years. That’s the conclusion of the latest WWF Living Planet Report released on Wednesday, which paints a damning picture of how deforestation, unsustainable agriculture, and the illegal wildlife trade is taking a toll on the world’s wildlife. 

Things are getting worse and worse when it comes to the state of our planet's wildlife. The last report in 2018 found that global populations of vertebrate species had declined in size by 60 percent on average between 1970 and 2014. This new report, looking at declines in populations of vertebrate species between the years 1970 to 2016, has found that figure has jumped to 68 percent. 

“We can’t ignore the evidence – these serious declines in wildlife species populations are an indicator that nature is unraveling and that our planet is flashing red warning signs of systems failure,” Marco Lambertini, Director General at WWF International, said in a statement.

Some of the hardest-hit populations include the eastern lowland gorilla, whose numbers in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo have dropped by approximately 87 percent between 1994 and 2015 mostly due to illegal hunting, as well as the African grey parrot in southwest Ghana, whose numbers were slashed by up to 99 percent between 1992 and 2014 due to wild bird trade and habitat loss.

The Living Planet Report 2020 uses the expertise of over 125 experts from around the world and heavily drew on the Living Planet Index, a log of almost 21,000 populations of over 4,000 vertebrate species between 1970 and 2016 collected by the Zoological Society of London. 

A pair of African grey parrots in flight-mode. Independent birds/Shutterstock

The chief finding — a 68 percent decline in global wildlife populations — means that populations of animals included in the study have on average declined by 68 percent. It doesn’t mean the planet has 68 percent fewer animals compared to 1970. Some populations have lost a high percentage while others have been barely affected. Some small populations could suffer a 90 percent loss just by a handful of individuals dying, for example, which increases the average. 

The report argues that 2020 has been a pivotal year that’s forced us to reevaluate our relationship with the natural world: an ongoing global pandemic, extreme weather events, devastating forest fires. While the report's findings are bleak, the authors conclude by noting there is still hope, even providing advice on how the planet can turn this situation around.

“In the midst of a global pandemic, it is now more important than ever to take unprecedented and coordinated global action to halt and start to reverse the loss of biodiversity and wildlife populations across the globe by the end of the decade and protect our future health and livelihoods," said Lambertini. "Our own survival increasingly depends on it.” 

Fortunately, the report does have a get-out plan. The WWF, along with more than 40 NGOs and academic institutions, have also published a paper in the journal Nature today that outlines the efforts necessary to counteract this problem. Titled Bending the curve of terrestrial biodiversity needs an integrated strategy, the study argues a coordinated global effort needs to be made with bolder and more ambitious efforts if we wish to stabilize and reverse the loss of nature caused by humans’ destruction of natural habitats. This, they argue, namely needs to address the way we produce and consume our food through making food production more efficient, reducing waste, and favoring more environmentally-friendly diets. 

“The Bending the Curve modeling provides invaluable evidence that if we are to have any hope of restoring nature to provide current and future generations of people with what they need, then world leaders must – in addition to conservation efforts – make our food system more sustainable and take deforestation – one of the main causes of wildlife population decline – out of supply chains,” Lambertini said.

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