Humanity is on the verge of causing a catastrophic extinction that rivals any in geological history, the naturalist Sir David Attenborough said yesterday as he launched a £3m website to preserve endangered species.
Sir David said the pressure of a burgeoning world population, which had doubled in his 79 years, meant that although awareness of the dangers to the natural world stemming from human activities had grown, "so has the problem". He warned: "I can see no way in which we will be able to prevent a number of species disappearing in the next two or three decades ... Some people may say that species disappear all the time, but there are more in danger of disappearing now than at any time in geological history, as far as we know.
"While I don't think that the world is going to become a desert overrun with a few cockroaches, the world is in danger of becoming a poorer place."
Sir David was speaking at the launch in Bristol of ARKive, a website (www.arkive.org) which is intended to be a "digital ark", collecting pictures, sounds and other resources about the planet's flora and fauna. The site went live at lunchtime with a video warning that at least 15,000 species are immediately endangered.
So far, the website has details of 1,500 species. It includes the only film of the now-extinct Tasmanian tiger, the last known film of the Amazonian golden toad and footage of the last male Spix macaw in the wild.