Humans have saved only 15% of land for wildlife, which is a ridiculously unsustainable portion to provide shelter, food, and life for planet’s 8.7 million different wildlife species.
This has had drastic consequences in the past four decades, according to a new study that says global populations of mammals, birds, and fish declined by 58% between 1970 and 2012.
This news comes from the 2016 "Living Planet Report: Risks and Resilience in a New Era," which includes research from World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London. The survey set out to ask, "What’s the status of some animal populations?" They got a deeply disturbing answer from the world’s creatures large and small.
“The report is certainly a pretty shocking snapshot of where we are,” said Mike Barrett, WWF’s Director of Science.
The most threatened, the report found, are freshwater species. Numbers of amphibians, like frogs, and fish, living in marshland, rivers, and lakes dropped 81% since 1970. That’s twice as much as their terrestrial mammal friends. Land mammals declined by 38%, and marine animals by 31%.
The bulk of this deeply depressing and shameful news is a result of clearing land for agriculture, residential and commercial development, and energy production, which leads to habitat loss and degradation for thousands of species of animals across the planet. It's happening more than previously thought, according to the study.
Pollution has damaging effects seen on marine species such as Orca whales and dolphins. And 75% of coral reefs are threatened due to the effects of climate change, pollution, and human development says the study. Pollution also had a large impact on freshwater species who are hit by industrial pollution, land clearing, dams rerouting or destroying habitats in some cases.
Climate change is also a culprit in the loss of biodiversity and wildlife. It accounts for about 25% of the decline in numbers of amphibians according to the report. It also plays a role in toppling numbers of reptiles.
“Changes in temperature can mix up signals that trigger events like migration and reproduction, causing them to happen at the wrong time,” the report states. This is true especially for freshwater and marine species who already face threats from “overexploitation and habitat loss/degradation, invasive species and disease, and pollution.”
However, within the dark report, there lies good news. First, researchers have seen conservation measures working. Tiger numbers are increasing, and measures to protect the most trafficked mammal, pangolins, passed recently at a global wildlife conference. Pandas are off the endangered list, though gorillas were added, this tells the world which areas to work hard to protect going forward.
The report recommends switching to a vegetarian diet and working on solutions to food and hunger challenges globally. This could help over 300 species that are facing extinction due to overconsumption and their coveted status as bushmeat. It also notes the importance of prioritizing sustainability measures in all business and political decisions, not just those that fall into the environmental sector. Essentially, it’s everyone’s responsibility to protect wildlife.
Some researchers are skeptical of the exact accuracy of the report, as it combines studies and numbers from various studies. Still, that should be no excuse not to take every action possible to preserve and prevent further biodiversity loss and wildlife destruction.
"We know what the causes are and we know the scale of the impact that humans are having on nature and on wildlife populations — it really is now down to us to act," said Barrett.