Let’s just take a moment to let this sink in: the number of wild animals across land, rivers and seas on this planet has halved over just four decades.
Pollution, the destruction of natural habitats, as well as humans killing them for food in unsustainable numbers, has seen Earth lose one half of it’s animal population.
“If half the animals died in London zoo next week it would be front page news,” said Professor Ken Norris, from the Zoological society of London.
“But that is happening in the great outdoors. This damage is not inevitable but a consequence of the way we choose to live.”
The research conducted by ZSL and the World Wildlife Fund is startling, especially when much of this loss was caused by humans.
“We have lost one half of the animal population and knowing this is driven by human consumption, this is clearly a call to arms and we must act now,” said Mike Barratt, director of science and policy at WWF.
Analysis of 10,000 different animal populations, that encompassed 3,000 species in total, were used to create a ‘Living Planet Index’ – reflecting the state of all 45,000 known vertebras.
A second part of the LPI calculated humanity’s ‘ecological footprint’ – the scale at which we humans use up natural resources.
It shows that, currently, the global population is cutting down trees faster that they can regrow, catching fish faster than the oceans can restock them, pumping water from rivers faster then they can replenish them and emitting more climate-warming carbon than the oceans and forests can absorb.
In fact, the report concludes that our average rate of global consumption would need 1.5 planet Earths to sustain it.
“If we get [our response] right, we will have a safe and sustainable way of life for the future,” a spokesperson from the ZSL told reporters.
If not, they warned, the overuse of resources will ultimately lead to global conflicts.
The fastest decline in animal populations were found in freshwater ecosystems, where numbers have plummeted by 75 per cent since 1970.
“Rivers are the bottom of the system,” said Dave Tickner, WWF’s chief freshwater adviser.
“Whatever happens on the land, it all ends up in the rivers,” he remarked, adding that tens of billions of tonnes of effluent are dumped in the River Ganges in India every year.
It doesn’t get much better on land, with animal numbers falling 40 per cent since 1970.
Poaching of forest elephants in central Africa now exceed birth rates. European snake species and the gibbons of Bangladesh haven’t faired much better either. But intensive concentration efforts have turned declines around tiger numbers in Nepal.
Marine animals have equally fallen by 40 per cent – turtles have felt the main brunt of this burden with an 80 per cent loss. Seabirds have been heavily affected too. Grey partridges in the UK have halved in numbers while sandpipers in Australia have suffered an 80 per cent loss in just two decades.
Low-income and developing nations have seen the biggest decline in animal numbers, while conservation efforts in wealthier countries have seen small improvements overall.
By importing foods goods that are produced through habitat destruction in developing nations, rich countries are ‘outsourcing’ this wildlife decline, the report shows.
“The scale of the destruction highlighted in this report should be a wake-up call for us all. But 2015 – when the countries of the world are due to come together to agree on a new global climate agreement, as well as a set of sustainable development goals – presents us with a unique opportunity to reverse the trends,” said WWF-UK’s chief executive.
“We all – politicians, businesses and people – have an interest, and a responsibility, to act to ensure we protect what we all value: a healthy future for both people and nature.”