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‘Red flashing lights’ for wildlife as populations decline 69%

WWF is calling for urgent action as a landmark report on wildlife populations reveals a “startling” decline around the world.

The world’s wildlife populations have suffered a “devastating” decline over the past 50 years as humans cleared forests and polluted the air, land and sea, according to the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) latest Living Planet Report.

The landmark report (PDF), released Thursday by WWF in partnership with the Zoological Society London (ZSL), shows that the relative abundance — the rate at which species population sizes are changing — of wildlife populations averaged between 1970 and 1970 has decreased by 69 percent and 2018.

The results were based on data from ZSL of nearly 32,000 wildlife populations of 5,230 species from around the world.

The Index “highlights how we have cut off the basis of life and the situation continues to deteriorate,” said Andrew Terry, director of conservation and policy at ZSL. “Preventing further biodiversity loss and restoring vital ecosystems must be high on the global agenda to address mounting climate, environmental and public health crises.”

The report comes two months before world leaders convene for the long-delayed UN biodiversity summit, known as COP15, which has been relocated to Canada due to China’s ongoing COVID-19 restrictions. Noting the links between climate change and biodiversity loss, the report’s authors said the talks were a “last chance” to protect nature.

“The message is clear and the lights are flashing red,” said Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, in his foreword to the report, adding that he presented some “startling numbers”.

The report found that some of the world’s most biodiverse regions, such as Latin America and the Caribbean, had experienced some of the sharpest declines in wildlife populations since 1970, with an average 94 percent decline in relative abundance. Populations in Africa saw an average decline of about 66 percent, while in Asia-Pacific it was 55 percent.

The world’s largest declines have been in freshwater populations, which declined by an average of 83 percent. Habitat loss and obstacles to migratory routes are responsible for about half of the threats to monitored migratory fish species, it said.

The index showed that wildlife — including the Amazon pink river dolphin, or boto, and oceanic shark and ray populations — have suffered particularly sharp declines over the past 50 years.

But it also showed that conservation efforts have helped boost species such as loggerhead turtles in Cyprus and mountain gorillas in the Virunga Mountains along the northern borders of Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda.

The report urged further action and also stressed that the rights, governance and conservation leadership of indigenous peoples and local communities around the world must be recognized and respected.

“We must see transformative systems change if we are to stop and reverse nature loss and ensure a prosperous future for people and nature,” said WWF’s Lambertini. “Heads of government need to compete at COP15. The world is watching.”

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