It seems that it’s pretty much the case. Research by scientists at WWF and the Zoological Society of London concluded that we destroyed half of the vertebrate animal population on Earth between 1970 and 2010.
The Living Planet Index (LPI), which measures more than 10,000 representative populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish, has declined by 52 percent since 1970. It’s a staggering mass-slaughter in a relatively short period of time.
The WWF stated: “These are the living forms that constitute the fabric of the ecosystems which sustain life on Earth – and the barometer of what we are doing to our own planet, our only home.” While the 3,038 vertebrate species included in the report are just a fraction of the estimated 62,839 species that have been recorded around the world, it gives us an idea of how we are destroying life on the planet. Only two years ago the initial investigation by the WWF (for the years 1970-2008) estimated the figure to be around 28 percent, but increased data has revealed the damage is far worse than first thought.
“If half the animals died in London Zoo next week, it would be front-page news,” said Professor Ken Norris, ZSL’s director of science. “But that is happening in the great outdoors. This damage is not inevitable but a consequence of the way we choose to live.” Over 2,000 sources — data on over 10,000 populations of around 3,000 species of mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, and fish — from around the globe were used.
Freshwater animals (such as frogs) have suffered the biggest drops, with an average decline of 79 percent. Populations of land-dwellers, such as the African elephant, have plummeted by 30 percent. Marine species declined 39 percent, with the biggest losses occurring in the tropics and the oceans off Antarctica — especially among marine turtles, shark species and large migratory seabirds.
In South Africa, where 80 percent of all African rhinos are located, the rate of rhino poaching continues to accelerate. The number of animals poached for their horns rose from 13 in 2007 to more than 1,000 in 2013. Despite growing awareness and improved protection, nearly one in 20 of the country’s rhino population was killed by poachers in 2013 alone, further increasing the pressure on existing populations. Not only have animal numbers been halved, some have ceased to exist altogether. In the last couple of years alone the species that have become extinct include the Pinta Island tortoise, the Formosan clouded leopard (pictured above) and Japanese river otter.
If you’re looking for a regional perspective, then consider the hammour fish. According to the Environment Agency Abu Dhabi, overfishing of hammour has placed the species on the endangered list. In recent years, it’s been over-fished seven times above the sustainable level that would allow the species to naturally replenish itself. The total number of commercially available fish in the country has declined by 80 percent in the past 30 years, according to a study by the Emirates Wildlife Society and World Wildlife Fund.
Yet, from mall cafés to local fish and chip shops to celebrity-chef restaurants, there’s no shortage of venues happy to offer hammour, despite the fact that many other restaurants have removed it from their menus.
If you want to personally do something about the decimation of life on Earth, then not eating the endangered parts of it would be a good start. The wider problem of man’s impact on the ecosystem we depend on for survival will be a harder fix.