More than half of the world’s wild animals lost in 40 years


Rapid deforestation in west and central Africa by loggers has left forest elephants (Loxodonta africana cyclotis) with just 6% of their historic range, with 60% population decline from 2002-11, primarily due to rampant poaching for ivory. Photograph: Carlos Drews/WWF-Canon[/caption]

Since 1970, the Earths population of wild animals has fallen by 52% according to the 10th edition of the World Wildlife Funds Living Planet report.

The Living Planet Index (LPI) is a respected database maintained by the Zoological Society of London. It has been used to track more than 10,000 different populations, or 3000 species of wild vertebrates – mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish – from 1970 to 2010. The LPI is used to gauge the state of the planet’s 45,000 known vertebrates.

According to the LPI, freshwater vertebrate populations have declined by 76%, and the number of vertebrates in the Indo-Pacific region has fallen by 67% since 1970.

Affected animals, some of which can be seen in this Guardian picture gallery, include the Hoolock gibbon of Bangladesh, whose numbers fell by more than 50% from 1986-2006 as they lost their forest habitat; the short-beaked common dolphin in the Ionian sea, reduced to just 15 individuals because of overfishing; and the wandering albatross, whose numbers have declined by 50% on Bird Island, South Georgia where they are snared by long line fisheries.

“If half the animals died in London zoo next week it would be front page news,” said the zoo’s director of science, Professor Ken Norris. “But that is happening in the great outdoors. This damage is not inevitable, but a consequence of the way we choose to live.”

As well as counting animal numbers, the Living Planet report also lists the ecological footprint of 152 countries. Australia places embarrassingly high, with the 13th largest ecological footprint in the world, mostly caused by our heavy carbon footprint. Kuwait tops the list.

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