Posted by WorkingAbroad Projects on Thursday, 2nd October 2014
For many years research has shown accelerated declines in animal numbers driven by human consumption, but new analysis indicates losses are much greater than previously thought. Research conducted by WWF and the Zoological Society of London suggests that the number of wild animals has plummeted in the last 40 years, dropping by 52%.
These new statistics have been calculated by analysing 10,380 populations covering 3,038 species. This data was then used to create a Living Planet Index (LPI). The LPI is a measure of the state of the world's biological diversity based on population trends of vertebrate species from terrestrial, freshwater and marine habitats. Professor Jonathan Baillie, ZSL’s director of conservation, has said the LPI is a robust indicator, adopted by the UN’s internationally-agreed Convention on Biological Diversity.
These findings are published in the new Living Planet report which has also calculated a second index analysing the rate at which the global population is using natural resources. Results indicate that humanity is currently consuming resources at a much faster rate than they can be replenished. The report suggests that the average current global rate of consumption requires 1.5 earths to sustain it.
The root of wildlife loss has long been known with the chief cause being human consumption. WWF’s Living Planet Index categorises the principal causes as exploitation, habitat degradation, habitat loss and climate change.
The areas that have been impacted most severely have been catalogued:
•One reserve in Ghana has seen a staggering 90% decrease in its lion population in the last 40 years
• In West Africa the destruction of forest has restricted forest elephants to 6-7% of their historic range and we have also seen the extinction of the West African Rhino.
• Globally, habitat loss and hunting have reduced tigers from 100,000 to just 3,000 in 100 years.
• Amongst those suffering the most are turtles, with an 80% reduction in numbers. Unsustainable fishing practices, the loss of nesting grounds and hunting are the major causes of this decline.
Many of the greatest declines in wildlife have been seen in developing countries, but it should be noted that many developed countries saw their biggest declines long before the research for the report began in 1970.
Some of the fastest declines have been seen in freshwater ecosystems, with a 75% reduction in aquatic animal populations. A major contributor to this drastic loss is the input of effluent into our rivers and streams. The construction of dams and water abstraction has also played a part in the decline. With the construction of a large dam underway in Laos and many more in the pipeline, the Mekong River is just one example of a freshwater ecosystem facing such a threat. The obstruction threatens to alter the flow of water, prevent migration and reduce fish populations. The Yangtze River in China has also seen the extinction of its signature species, the River Dolphin in 2006.
Despite increasing concern over global wildlife loss many individuals still fail to see the personal significance. But the fact is that environmental changes will ultimately affect us all. Human well-being relies on ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling, pollination and erosion control and on natural resources such as water, food and arable land. Sustainable activities therefore bring not only environmental benefits, but economic and social benefits too.
In the face of this wakeup call, WWF and ZSL are not despairing and are instead pointing to conservation efforts such as gorilla conservation in Rwanda and incentives for small scale farmers in Brazil. The continued decline in wildlife has also highlighted the urgent need for sustainable solutions. The Living Planet Report 2014 advocates better utilisation of natural resources within the planets limitations to ensure a secure future for both people and nature. The report suggests that these trends of decline are reversible and that a continuation of wildlife losses and resource exploitation is not inevitable. Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International, believes that by acknowledging the drivers of decline we have the opportunity to put things right, but we must act now.
Around the world people are now finding alternatives to use natural resources within the Earth’s capacity and conserve threatened species. Many of our Working Abroad projects are helping to tackle the rapid reduction in wildlife:
By Megan Smith, WorkingAbroad team
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