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WWF: Wildlife down by a quarter since 1970s

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AP Photo/Reed Saxon/FILE

(Read caption) A humpback whale leaps out of the water in what is called breaching. The marine mammal, which is considered by the United States to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild, is frequently entangled in fishing nets or struck by boats.

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More than 1 in 4 animals have disappeared in the past 35 years, according to a report published Thursday by the World Wildlife Fund conservation group.

The massive loss of biodiviersity is caused by humans, say the authors of 2010 & Beyond: Rising to the Biodiversity Challenge (PDF), primarily through habitat loss, overfishing and overhunting, the introduction of invasive species, and pollution. According to the report, climate change, while not as significant as the other causes, has "the potential to become the greatest threat to biodiversity over the course of the next few decades."

The WWF's Living Planet Index, developed in partnership with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) tracks some 4,000 populations of 241 fish, 83 amphibian, 40 reptile, 811 bird, and 302 mammal species. The index showed that, between 1970 and 2005, terrestrial species fell by 25 percent, marine by 28 percent, and freshwater by 29 percent. Populations of marine bird species increased from the 1970s to the mid-90s, but have plummeted 30 percent since then.

A ZSL press release said that the current extinction rate is 10,000 times faster than has been tracked in the fossil record.

ZSL scientist Jonathan Loh, editor of the report, said the severe decline was "completely unprecedented in terms of human history. You'd have to go back to the extinction of the dinosaurs to see a decline as rapid as this.
"In terms of human times-scales we may be seeing things change relatively slowly, but a decline of 30 percent in the space of a single generation is unprecedented in human history."
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