A report commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Living Planet Index, has found that human consumption of food and resources across the globe has directly contributed to the extinction of 60 per cent of the world’s vertebrate animals since 1970.
The Living Planet Index, produced by the London Zoological Society for the WWF, is created using data on more than 4,000 species of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians.
Ecosystems and habitats have been irrevocably impacted by humanity through farming, city expansion, deforestation and pollution, among other destructive activities. The Living Planet Index cited destruction of habitats, usually to create farmland, as the primary cause of extinction; and singled out the impacts of animals being killed for food and overfishing. Chemical pollution – particularly its impact on sealife – and the introduction of invasive species and disease prompted by global trade were also cited as significantly destructive human activities.
The Living Planet Index found freshwater habitats have been the hardest hit, seeing an overall population collapse of 83 per cent; attributed to the significant use of fresh water by agriculture and the proliferation of dams. The most affected regions are South and Central America with a population drop of 89 per cent, predominantly due to rampant deforestation.
Wildlife and ecosystems are essential to continued human survival, contributing to food, water, pollination; and regulating climate change. Conservation efforts directed at specific species have been shown to be effective – tiger populations have grown by 20 per cent in India since it introduced conservation measures; and elsewhere giant pandas and otters, both of which have been the subject of preservation efforts, are thriving – but, as detailed in the Living Planet Index, human consumption remains the predominant issue. WWF director general Marco Lambertini said: “We can no longer ignore the impact of current unsustainable production models and wasteful lifestyles.”