The Force of the Horse

Humanity has wiped out 60% of animals since 1970, major report finds

By as published on The Guardian

The huge loss is a tragedy in itself but also threatens the survival of civilization, say the world’s leading scientists 

photo by Terry Fitch of Wild Horse Freedom Federation

Humanity has wiped out 60% of mammals, birds, fish and reptiles since 1970, leading the world’s foremost experts to warn that the annihilation of wildlife is now an emergency that threatens civilization.

The new estimate of the massacre of wildlife is made in a major report produced by WWF and involving 59 scientists from across the globe. It finds that the vast and growing consumption of food and resources by the global population is destroying the web of life, billions of years in the making, upon which human society ultimately depends for clean air, water and everything else.

“We are sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff” said Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at WWF. “If there was a 60% decline in the human population, that would be equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China and Oceania. That is the scale of what we have done.”

“This is far more than just being about losing the wonders of nature, desperately sad though that is,” he said. “This is actually now jeopardizing the future of people. Nature is not a ‘nice to have’ – it is our life-support system.”

“We are rapidly running out of time,” said Prof Johan Rockström, a global sustainability expert at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “Only by addressing both ecosystems and climate do we stand a chance of safeguarding a stable planet for humanity’s future on Earth.”

Many scientists believe the world has begun a sixth mass extinction, the first to be caused by a species – Homo sapiens. Other recent analyses have revealed that humankind has destroyed 83% of all mammals and half of plants since the dawn of civilization and that, even if the destruction were to end now, it would take 5-7 million years for the natural world to recover.

The Living Planet Index, produced for WWF by the Zoological Society of London, uses data on 16,704 populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians, representing more than 4,000 species, to track the decline of wildlife. Between 1970 and 2014, the latest data available, populations fell by an average of 60%. Four years ago, the decline was 52%. The “shocking truth”, said Barrett, is that the wildlife crash is continuing unabated.

Wildlife and the ecosystems are vital to human life, said Prof Bob Watson, one of the world’s most eminent environmental scientists and currently chair of an intergovernmental panel on biodiversity that said in March that the destruction of nature is as dangerous as climate change.

“Nature contributes to human wellbeing culturally and spiritually, as well as through the critical production of food, clean water, and energy, and through regulating the Earth’s climate, pollution, pollination and floods,” he said. “The Living Planet report clearly demonstrates that human activities are destroying nature at an unacceptable rate, threatening the wellbeing of current and future generations.”

The biggest cause of wildlife losses is the destruction of natural habitats, much of it to create farmland. Three-quarters of all land on Earth is now significantly affected by human activities. Killing for food is the next biggest cause – 300 mammal species are being eaten into extinction – while the oceans are massively overfished, with more than half now being industrially fished.

Chemical pollution is also significant: half the world’s killer whale populations are now doomed to die from PCB contamination. Global trade introduces invasive species and disease, with amphibians decimated by a fungal disease thought to be spread by the pet trade.

The worst affected region is South and Central America, which has seen an 89% drop in vertebrate populations, largely driven by the felling of vast areas of wildlife-rich forest. In the tropical savannah called cerrado, an area the size of Greater London is cleared every two months, said Barrett.

“It is a classic example of where the disappearance is the result of our own consumption, because the deforestation is being driven by ever expanding agriculture producing soy, which is being exported to countries including the UK to feed pigs and chickens,” he said. The UK itself has lost much of its wildlife, ranking 189th for biodiversity loss out of 218 nations in 2016.

The habitats suffering the greatest damage are rivers and lakes, where wildlife populations have fallen 83%, due to the enormous thirst of agriculture and the large number of dams. “Again there is this direct link between the food system and the depletion of wildlife,” said Barrett. Eating less meat is an essential part of reversing losses, he said.

The Living Planet Index has been criticized as being too broad a measure of wildlife losses and smoothing over crucial details. But all indicators, from extinction rates to intactness of ecosystems, show colossal losses. “They all tell you the same story,” said Barrett.

Conservation efforts can work, with tiger numbers having risen 20% in India in six years as habitat is protected. Giant pandas in China and otters in the UK have also been doing well.

But Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, said the fundamental issue was consumption: “We can no longer ignore the impact of current unsustainable production models and wasteful lifestyles.”

The world’s nations are working towards a crunch meeting of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity in 2020, when new commitments for the protection of nature will be made. “We need a new global deal for nature and people and we have this narrow window of less than two years to get it,” said Barrett. “This really is the last chance. We have to get it right this time.”

Tanya Steele, chief executive at WWF, said: “We are the first generation to know we are destroying our planet and the last one that can do anything about it.”

11 replies »

  1. Frightening and sad not only for us today but even more so for our future generation. Biological diversity is the resource upon which families, communities, nations and future generations depend. It is the link between all organisms on earth, binding each into an interdependent ecosystem, in which all species have their role. It is the web of life.


    • In other words – what these politicians & states want to do is precisely what they are doing and have been doing to our wild horses & burros right along! Sadly in this case, the federal government (BLM & DOI) is complicit in the whole thing!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. AND noticed how the Corporate Media is using these show to glamorize trapping and demonizing predators. They are especially focusing now on ALASKA.

    Mountain Men Wannabes: Allies of the Fur Trade
    by Simon Ward, editor, Truth About Fur

    So how can the fur trade learn from shows like Mountain Men, and apply what it learns in its public relations?
    We start by recognizing how popular this genre is, of folk living from nature, by their wits.
    To name just a few shows with much the same formula as Mountain Men, we have: Swamp People (same hairy humans as Mountain Men, but hunting alligators); Outback Hunters (much like Swamp People but with Aussies hunting crocs); Lobster Wars; Lobstermen: Jeopardy at Sea; Wicked Tuna; Swords: Life on the Line, and so on.

    Then there’s the granddaddy of them all, Deadliest Catch, the award-winning saga of crab fishermen trying hard not to drown or get minced in machinery. Now in its 10th season, Deadliest Catch has set record ratings in its class across both males and females, in all age brackets.

    And we haven’t even touched on the survivalist genre featuring Bear Grylls (Man vs. Wild) et al. eating anything which once had, and sometimes still has, a pulse.

    Don’t worry about the ratings. The mere fact that the cable TV powerhouses of History, Discovery and Nat Geo keep churning these shows out is proof enough of their appeal. Just this June, Animal Planet got in on the act with Beaver Brothers.



    Bloodthirsty ‘factual’ TV shows demonise wildlife
    Major US TV channels are promoting hysterical and outdated ideas about wildlife in popular, blood-soaked shows

    If you’re North American or get US-produced satellite TV, you’ve probably learned a lot about wildlife from outlets like the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and History. You might trust these channels because you’ve seen educational, factually accurate shows on them, unlike the ‘trashy’ material that dominates free-to-air network TV.

    But not everything on on these ‘factual’ channels might be as ethical or even as accurate as you might think, and the implications for conservation could be profound.

    Wolves have been spotted on the edge of town.” Charlie, a hunter, shows us the tracks of “a lone wolf”. “Wolves are mean, ferocious animals and they can tear a man apart real easy” he says, so “we have to get this wolf, it’s not an if, its a must, because he’ll go to any measure to eat. They’re the worst kind.”

    Charlie kills the wolf in the next episode, pursuing it on a snowmobile and shooting it outside town with an AR-15, the same semi-automatic assault rifle used by the Sandy Hook school shooter. “The only good thing about a wolf is the quality of their nice fur”, says Charlie, holding up the blood-smeared pelt.



    Bloodthirsty ‘factual’ TV shows demonise wildlife
    Major US TV channels are promoting hysterical and outdated ideas about wildlife in popular, blood-soaked shows

    Another scene shows Stan, a fur trapper, dealing with a wolverine. Wolverines, about as big as a medium-sized dog, are the largest members of the weasel family. One has been caught by its front paw in one of Stan’s steel leghold traps and is trying to get away, squealing and snarling as he approaches. “He’s really dangerous”, says Stan, “I don’t think any human being could keep an attacking wolverine from killing them.”

    Stan chops down a small tree, which he bashes the struggling wolverine with — to “stun” it, he says. Once the wolverine’s strength is somewhat depleted, he approaches it with a small handgun. The animal’s head turns, tracking the gun, and he shoots it. The camera zooms in to show steam rising from the carcass.

    Charlie, too, sets a leghold trap for a wolverine, and catches it. As it squeals in the trap, trying to run away, the voiceover tells us dramatically that “wolverines are capable of tearing human beings apart.”



      Bloodthirsty ‘factual’ TV shows demonise wildlife
      Major US TV channels are promoting hysterical and outdated ideas about wildlife in popular, blood-soaked shows

      Why did the producers of Yukon Men tell their viewers that there had been twenty fatal wolf attacks in the last ten years, implying that these had taken place around Tanana? Why does a ‘factual’ show portray Alaskan wolves as man-eating monsters straight out of Victorian fairytales, a serious threat to life and limb, when the data show that wolf attacks are extremely rare in North America?

      Idaho-based wolf expert Suzanne Stone told me that she’d once been surrounded by a howling pack of gray wolves while sitting by a campfire in the twilight, armed only with a marshmallow on a stick. The animals were only twenty or thirty yards away. Was she scared, I asked? “No, not at all. It was an incredible experience. I howled back and forth with them”, adding that
      people and domestic livestock were the most dangerous creatures she’d encountered in many years of walking in wolf-inhabited backcountry.


    • Arent wolverines one of the animals that has very few left AND that people very seldom see? Do wonder exactly how this TV CREW managed to acquire one so that this actor could kill it! As all reality(??) shows are nothing more than actors & camera crews – what is the draw? I for one dont get it. As with all of them, this one is no more real than any other! Sad, isnt it? This is where far too many – get their “jollies”! And waste their time.

      Liked by 1 person


    Bloodthirsty ‘factual’ TV shows demonise wildlife
    Major US TV channels are promoting hysterical and outdated ideas about wildlife in popular, blood-soaked shows

    I contacted National Geographic TV, assuming that this flagship brand would have a policy something like that of the BBC’s. Christopher Alberts, the Senior Vice President of Communications for the National Geographic Channels, told me that they have “one of the best policies there is”, but REFUSED to send it to me or tell me anything about it.

    WHY are these factual networks, whose survival depends on building trust with their audiences, so reluctant to clarify their ethics policies with respect to wildlife?

    What does it mean for conservation if high-rating shows on leading channels are portraying wildlife in a negative, seemingly misleading way to millions of viewers worldwide? And why are so few people saying anything about it?


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