Wildlife numbers halved over past 40 years

PARIS – Wildlife numbers have plunged by more than half in just 40 years as Earth’s human population has nearly doubled, a survey of more than 3000 vertebrate species shows.

From 1970 to 2010, there was a 39 per cent drop in numbers across a representative sample of land and sea-dwelling species.

Green group, WWF also says in its 2014 Living Planet Report, freshwater populations declined 76 per cent.

Extrapolating from the figures, “the number of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish across the globe is, on average, about half the size it was 40 years ago”, it said.

The 52 per cent decrease confirmed mankind was chomping through Nature’s bounty much faster than the rate of replenishment, the WWF warned.

The last Living Planet Report, in 2012, found a 28 per cent drop in numbers from 1970-2008, but that was based on only 2688 monitored species.

The new report tracks the growth or decline of more than 10,000 populations of 3038 species ranging from forest elephants to sharks, turtles and albatrosses.

It stressed that humans were consuming natural resources at a rate that would require 1.5 Earths to sustain — cutting down trees faster than they mature and harvesting more fish than oceans can replace.

“We are using nature’s gifts as if we had more than just one Earth at our disposal,” WWF director general Marco Lambertini said in the report.

“By taking more from our ecosystems and natural processes than can be replenished, we are jeopardising our very future.”

While agricultural yield per hectare has improved through better farming and irrigation methods, the sheer human population explosion has reduced per capita “biocapacity”, or available life-sustaining land.

Human population numbers shot up from about 3.7 billion to nearly seven billion from 1970 to 2010.

“So while biocapacity has increased globally, there is now less of it to go around,” the report said.