Wildlife populations reduced by 58%

The news this week: the Living Planet assessment, by the Zoological Society of London reports that “global wildlife populations have fallen by 58% since 1970.” Worse, if current trends continue, by 2020, vertebrate species may decline by two-thirds.

The report hit the media just as I was putting the finishing touches on a presentation for Montana State’s Wonderlust program, New Zealand: Paradox in Paradise, drawing parallels between New Zealand’s loss of native species and global declines in wildlife populations. In New Zealand, the country’s native vertebrate populations have been reduced by half over 800 years of settlement by Māori and Europeans. The decline is due to a combination of habitat loss, human exploitation, and invasive non-native species. This seems an incredibly high rate of loss, and frightening to think that humans could do such damage over a few centuries.

Only to read humans have done such damage across the globe over just a few decades. And primarily for the same reasons: habitat loss, human exploitation, and invasive non-native species.

A weka, one of New Zealand's native flightless birds

A weka, one of New Zealand’s native flightless birds

New Zealand is tackling its problems in many ways, with restoration and preservation programs in force. In an effort to halt the devastating impacts of introduced predators on native bird species the government has even proclaimed that the country will be predator free by 2050, completely rid of rats, possums, and stoats and hopefully ferrets, weasels, and even mice. These introduced predators kill an estimated 25 million native birds a year and have an annual 3.3 billion NZ dollar impact on the economy.

New Zealand’s efforts might make a difference, but it’s a small country with one presiding government. If it struggles to turn around wildlife decline, what can be done on a global scale?

Really, what I want to write, talk, think about is the beauty of the natural world, the inspiring places I’ve lived and traveled in, the wildlife that have graced my days, landscapes I’ve immersed in that are so rich with life. But I cannot turn my back on this, the latest news on the horrific decline in the world’s non-human inhabitants. And so I write about the loss, in hopes that it might spark some awareness. Even a small bit. So that generations to come might have the chance to write, talk, think, engage with the beauty of the natural world that is fading away due to human action even as I type out these words.

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