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Wildlife numbers plummet globally: WWF

by Staff Writers
London (AFP) May 16, 2008
The world's wildlife populations have reduced by around a quarter since the 1970s, according to a major report published Friday by the WWF conservation organization.

Marine species have been particularly hard hit as the human population booms, while numbers of birds and, fish and animals have also gone down, said the WWF in a report.

The study comes ahead of next week's UN convention on biological diversity in the former West German capital Bonn, which will discuss aims to achieve a "significant reduction" in the current rate of biodiversity loss by 2010.

The WWF, the world's largest independent conservation body, said it was "very unlikely" that the UN would meet its targets, despite the decline appearing to flatten off in recent years.

The WWF's Living Planet Index, which tracks the fortunes of nearly 4,000 populations of 1,477 vertebrate species from 1970 to 2005, showed an overall decline of 27 percent.

Over-fishing and hunting, along with farming, pollution and urban expansion, were blamed.

WWF director general James Leape warned: "Reduced biodiversity means millions of people face a future where food supplies are more vulnerable to pests and disease and where water is in irregular or short supply.

"No one can escape the impact of biodiversity loss because reduced global diversity translates quite clearly into fewer new medicines, greater vulnerability to natural disasters and greater effects from global warming."

The marine LPI showed a 28-percent decline with a dramatic drop between 1995 and 2005. The overall freshwater LPI fell by 29 percent between 1970 and 2003.

Swordfish numbers plummeted by 28 percent in the decade from 1995, while ocean birds suffered a 30 percent decline since the mid 1990s.

"Biodiversity underpins the health of the planet and has a direct impact on all our lives so it is alarming that despite an increased awareness of environmental issues we continue to see a downward trend," said Colin Butfield, head of campaigns at WWF-UK.

The British-based conservation charity also warned that a failure to halt biodiversity loss would have negative impacts for humans.

In the next 30 years, climate change is expected to become a significant threat to species, said the WWF.

The declines come at a time when humans are consuming ever more natural resources, and are now using 25 percent more than the planet can replace, it said.

The WWF urged governments to take urgent action to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010, calling for cross-ministry protection plans.

They should also set up financial incentives to support the establishment and maintenance of protection zones, it said.

"The fact that human activities have caused more rapid changes in biodiversity in the last 50 years than at any other time in human history should concern us all," said Britain's Biodiversity Minister Joan Ruddock.

"Supporting wildlife is critical to all our futures and the UK will continue to give strong support to international action.

"The rate of wildlife loss needs to be slowed both in the UK and internationally.

"International action is needed to tackle the worldwide decline in wildlife, with all countries working together."

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