Death on Earth: how the world's wildlife vanished

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Landmark study shows numbers have fallen by third since 1970s

A A A

The world's wildlife has declined by nearly a third over the past 40 years, a new estimate of the health of the planet suggests.

Click here to see the 'THE SURVEY - MAN’S IMPACT ON NATURE' graphic

In some parts the figure is much higher – in the tropics, losses are estimated at more than 50 per cent, while in tropical freshwater ecosystems specifically, average losses may be as high as 70 per cent, according to the 2012 edition of the Living Planet Report, produced by the WWF.

Typical high declines include the wild tiger, which has suffered a 70 per cent decline in the size of populations, and run right up to the extreme case of the baiji, the freshwater dolphin from China's Yangtze river, which appears to have become extinct in recent years.

However, in northern areas such as Europe and North America, wildlife populations are doing much better, reflecting the amount of conservation that wealthy societies are able to afford.

The Living Planet Report is published every two years and is based on the Living Planet Index, an aggregated measure of the health of more than 9,000 populations of more than 2,600 species, collated by the Zoological Society of London. The wildlife index is accompanied by an appraisal, the Ecological Footprint, which measures the impact of humanity on the Earth's natural resources. In the latest report, the Ecological Footprint is shown as exceeding the Earth's capacity to replace what humans are taking by more than 50 per cent – in other words, we are using 1.5 times the resources naturally produced each year and the wastes that can be absorbed (including the carbon dioxide emissions which are causing climate change).

The contrast of the two measures – the wildlife index right down, and the human exploitation index right up, reflecting expanding population levels – means that we are using up the Earth's natural capital, the report says.

"We're now in the danger zone, exceeding the planetary boundaries for natural capital," said David Nussbaum, chief executive of WWF-UK. "If we continue to use up our planet's resources faster than it can replace them, soon we'll have exploited every available corner of the Earth. Thankfully it's not too late to reverse this trend, but we need to address this with the same urgency and determination that we tackled the systemic financial crisis globally."

Jonathan Baillie, conservation programme director with the Zoological Society of London, said: "This report is like a planetary check-up and the results indicate we have a very sick planet. Ignoring this diagnosis will have major implications for humanity. We can restore the planet's health, but only through addressing population growth and over-consumption of resources."

The detail of the Living Planet Index shows that since 1970, the global tropical index has declined by 60 per cent, but the global temperate index – the wildlife portrait of the temperate zones, including much of Europe and North America – increased by 31 per cent. However, says the report "this disguises huge historical losses prior to 1970".

The report has been released early to set the agenda for "Rio Plus 20" – the UN conference on sustainable development to be held in Rio de Janeiro next month.

70%

Estimated average loss of wildlife in tropical freshwater ecosystems

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker