The WWF (formerly known as World Wildlife Fund), one of the world’s leading conservation organizations, has recently come out with its latest report.
Called the Living Planet Report, it tracks population sizes of around 3000 vertebrate species such as mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fishes. According to the report, the animal population has reduced by 52% in the period between 1970 and 2010.
In other words, average population of these species has halved in just 40 years!
What Did The Study Cover?
At the heart of this study is the WWF’s Living Planet Index (LPI), which is a measure of our world’s biodiversity. Researchers have been tracking 10,380 populations of vertebrates across 3038 animal species. Using several sources of data, they have compiled a better picture of terrestrial, freshwater and marine species.
Of these three categories, they found freshwater species such as frogs have reduced by nearly 79%! The other two categories are not as bad, but have still dropped by 39% each. Overall, this averages to a 52% decline in the numbers of the animals (not in the number of species.
The analysis has also found that animal populations in tropical regions of our world have declined by 56% compared to temperate regions (36%). The drop in animal numbers is largely a result of habitat loss, excessive hunting and fishing activities, and climate change (though its effects are hard to measure. The biggest decline was in Latin America (83%), and followed closely by Asia.
The report measures what scientists call "Ecological Footprint" - or the amount of land needed to sustain the lifestyle and needs of an average person. Did you know that currently we are consuming the equivalent of 1.5 Earths? What this means is that, the amount of arable land (land used for growing crops), forest and agricultural products, and fishing yields are reducing. At the same time, humans are emitting more harmful gases and waste products into the environment.
Not All Is Lost...
While the report has identified some worrying trends, all is not lost. The results have also identified key causes for the decline in animal population sizes. If countries can manage their natural resources as they try to grow their economy, we can reverse the trend.
We have seen success stories such as endangered blue whales making a comeback in the Pacific Ocean, and conservation efforts leading to a slow (but steady) increase in endangered mountain gorilla populations in the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are other similarly encouraging stories of tigers in Nepal and otters in England. In fact, there is even an extreme case of protected wild horses in the Americas increasing so much that their numbers need to be brought back under control!
Critical Thinking: Curiously, countries with a high income showed an increase in animal populations. What do you think - are their conservation efforts working? Or are they exploiting the natural resources of poorer nations?