The Earth has lost 58% of its wildlife in the past 40 years

According to a new study, global wildlife populations are at risk and two thirds of all animal species may disappear in the next four years.

Amphibians, mammals, reptiles, fish and birds: most of the world’s wildlife is silently and inexorably facing decline. According to the report “Living Planet 2016”, conducted by WWF, the Zoological Society of London and the Stockholm Resilience Centre, global wildlife populations have fallen by 58 percent from 1970 to 2012.

red tuna wildlife loss
Marine wildlife populations, in particular big predators such as tuna, have declined by 36 percent from 1970 to 2012 © Auscape/UIG via Getty Images

Data of the decline

The study, published every two years to provide an assessment of the state of the world’s wildlife, looked at more than 14,000 populations of 3,706 different species of vertebrates from around the world and highlights an average decline of 2% every year. The report also reveals an even worse scenario: if we don’t take action to preserve these species, at least two-thirds of all animal species will disappear by 2020.

Why world’s wildlife is facing decline

The incessant decline of animal species is undoubtedly caused by human activities. As human populations are rapidly growing, there is less space for animals, so habitat loss caused by deforestation and the increase in agricultural lands is one of the main causes of the loss of biodiversity. Other causes include the illegal trade in wildlife, which is worth up to 19 billion dollars annually, environmental pollution and climate change, hunting and fishing, and the introduction of non-native species that compete with native ones. “We know what the causes are and we know the scale of the impact that humans are having on nature and on wildlife populations – said Mike Barrett, head of science and policy at WWF – it really is now down to us to act”.

indonesia orangutan
Deforestation and forest conversion into agricultural lands is one of the main causes of the loss of biodiversity. The cultivation of palm trees in Southeast Asia is decimating orangutans © BAY ISMOYO/AFP/Getty Images

The most threatened species

Animals living in lakes, rivers and wetlands are suffering the biggest losses, dropping by 81 percent between 1970 and 2012. This is due to groundwater pollution (amphibians breathe through their skin, so are particularly sensitive to water pollution) and the fragmentation of freshwater ecosystems. Big vertebrates, including African elephants and sharks, are also endangered and are threatened by poaching and overfishing.

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Amphibians are the most threatened animals by pollution and climate change © Waring Abbott/Getty Images

It’s time to change

Considering these alarming data, a change is necessary, before it’s too late. According to experts, 2020 could be the good year, because it is when some measures adopted at Cop 21 will enter into force and some of the goals of the UN Agenda for Sustainable Development are set to be achieved. From a utilitarian point of view, wildlife decline is a huge economic loss for our species. But, of course, there’s more to it. When most of the living beings with which we share the Earth are extinct, we will realise that the world is empty and sad without animals, and we will feel so alone.

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