Warning of 'mass extinction' like dinosaurs, as wildlife declines

Global wildlife populations are set to fall by more than two-thirds

Warning of 'mass extinction' like dinosaurs, as wildlife declines

In this file photo, an elephant is seen strolling through the dusty in Tsavo East National Park in Kenya | Image: Karel Prinsloo AP/Press Association Images

Conservationists have warned nature is facing a global "mass extinction" for the first time since the demise of the dinosaurs.

It comes after figures show global wildlife populations are set to fall by more than two-thirds on 1970 levels by the end of the decade.

An assessment of 14,152 populations of 3,706 species of mammals, birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles from around the world reveals a 58% fall between 1970 and 2012.

And there is no sign the average 2% drop in numbers each year will slow, says a Living Planet report from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

The report warns that by 2020, populations of vertebrate species could have fallen by 67% over a 50-year period unless action is taken to reverse the damaging impacts of human activity.

African elephants in Tanzania have seen numbers crash due to poaching, while maned wolves in Brazil are threatened by grasslands being turned into farmland.

Other species under threat include orcas or killer whales, leatherback turtles, the European eel and vultures in south-east Asia.

"A wake-up call"

The report says species are being increasingly affected by unsustainable agriculture and fishing, as well as mining and other human activities that cause habitats to be lost or become degraded.

Wildlife is also being hit by over-exploitation, climate change and pollution, the report adds.

Overall terrestrial species, which are found in habitats ranging from grasslands to forests, have seen populations drop by 38% since 1970.

Freshwater species are faring even worse, with declines of 81% between 1970 and 2012.

But it is not all bad news. The report highlights the success of habitat protection and strict controls on hunting in Europe to help restore populations of wildlife including bears, lynx, wolverines and wolves.

It also notes that grassland species have increased slightly since 2004, while wetland wildlife has enjoyed a rise since 2005 and marine species have been stable since 1988.

"This research delivers a wake-up call that for decades we've treated our planet as if it's disposable," said Carter Roberts, WWF president and CEO.

"We created this problem. The good news is that we can fix it. It requires updating our approach to food, energy, transportation, and how we live our lives. We share the same planet. We rely on it for our survival. So we are all responsible for its protection."