WWF’s Living Planet report reveals two-thirds decline in wildlife populations on average since 1970

Lahore (Zahid Chughtai) Global populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish have suffered an average two-thirds decline in less than half a century due in large part to the very same environmental destruction which is contributing to the emergence of zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19, according to WWF’s Living Planet report 2020, released today. The Living Planet Index (LPI), provided by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), shows that factors believed to increase the planet’s vulnerability to pandemics – including land-use change and the use and trade of wildlife – were also some of the drivers behind the 68 per cent average decline in global vertebrate species populations between 1970 and 2016. Speaking during the online launch event, Hammad Naqi Khan, Director General, WWF-Pakistan said that the Living Planet Report 2020 underlines how humanity’s increasing destruction of nature is having catastrophic impacts not only on wildlife populations but also on human health and all aspects of our lives. He pointed out, “We can’t ignore the evidence – the serious decline in wildlife species populations is an indicator that nature is unravelling and that our planet is flashing red warning signs of systems failure. From the fish in our oceans and rivers to bees, which play a crucial role in our agricultural production, the decline of wildlife directly affects nutrition, food security and the livelihoods of billions of people,” he added. Khan also shared that there a few conservation success stories in Pakistan’s context, where inclusive and coordinated conservation efforts have helped to enhance population of several endangered wildlife species and their habitats. He added the example of the population of the Indus River dolphin, an endemic and endangered species of river cetacean, which has almost doubled in the past two decades. Whereas the efforts made as part of crew-based observer and the safe release programme have helped substantially reduce fisheries by-catch of endangered marine wildlife including whale sharks, dolphins, green sea turtles, and squids. He stated that Pakistan is among the top 10 countries most affected by climate change impacts and the Indus River is the second most plastic polluted freshwater river in the world. He warned that the population of freshwater turtles, vultures, crocodiles and migratory birds has witnessed a decline in Pakistan. “Illegal wildlife trade, plastic waste, water pollution and climate change should be tackled on an immediate basis”, he added. The Living Planet Report 2020 presents a comprehensive overview of the state of our natural world through the LPI, which tracks trends in global wildlife abundance, and contributions from more than 125 experts from around the world. It shows that the main cause of the dramatic decline in species populations on land observed in the LPI is habitat loss and degradation, including deforestation, driven by how we as humanity produce food. The LPI, which tracked almost 21,000 populations of more than 4,000 vertebrate species between 1970 and 2016, also shows that wildlife populations found in freshwater habitats have suffered a decline of 84 per cent – the starkest average population decline in any biome, equivalent to 4 per cent per year since 1970. One example is the spawning population of the Chinese sturgeon in China’s Yangtze River, which declined by 97 per cent between 1982 and 2015 due to the damming of the waterway1. “The Living Planet Index is one of the most comprehensive measures of global biodiversity,” said Dr Andrew Terry, ZSL’s Director of Conservation. “An average decline of 68 per cent in the past 50 years is catastrophic, and clear evidence of the damage human activity is doing to the natural world. If nothing changes, populations will undoubtedly continue to fall, driving wildlife to extinction and threatening the integrity of the ecosystems on which we all depend. But we also know that conservation works and species can be brought back from the brink. With commitment, investment and expertise, these trends can be reversed.”