According to the most comprehensive survey of wildlife ever carried out, the world is heading towards the first mass extinction since the dinosaurs were killed off 65 million years ago.

The Living Planet report - produced by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) - found that the current rate of extinction is about 100 times faster than what is considered normal. Because of that, by 2020, populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and other vertebrate species will have dropped by more than two-thirds over a period of just 50 years.

It's thought that the dinosaurs were wiped out after a giant meteor hit the planet, but this time round the problem facing the planet is a even more sinister: humans.

The report analysed data for 3,706 species, and found that between 1970 and 2012 the average decline in population was 58 percent. If things keep going at this rate, the figure will hit 67 percent by 2020.

polar bear

Polar bears are affected by chemical pollution. Credit: PA

Mike Barrett, WWF's Executive Director of Global Programmes, recently told LADbible: "Across the globe, wild animal populations are on course to plummet by a staggering 67 percent between the 1970s and the end of this decade.

"Our Living Planet report provides a snapshot of the state of the natural world, and it makes grim reading.

"There have been five mass extinction events in the earth's history, all caused by natural events; if we don't act now we will see a sixth mass extinction, which, for the first time, is driven by people.

"More and more land is being used for farming, timber, mining and infrastructure putting wildlife under ever greater pressure. The consequences of climate change are also rapidly beginning to take their toll. By 2050 it is expected to be the number one cause of wildlife loss.

He added: "We can act, not just to stop this, but to restore our natural world."

The impact of humans is particularly notable. Poachers killing huge numbers of African elephants have led to their population falling by 111,000 to 415,000 in under a decade, chemical pollution affects everything from orcas to polar bears, while the giant anteater and maned wolf are under threat because the Brazilian grasslands they call home are being converted into soy fields and pasture for cattle.

The number of Himilayan griffons has also dropped considerably because of a drug given to cattle, which gives the birds kidney failure after they eat the meat of dead animals.

"We know how to stop this. It requires governments, businesses and citizens to rethink how we produce, consume, measure success and value the natural environment," Dr Barrett also said when the report was published, adding that the UK needs a 'serious plan' to increase protection for species and habitats, while also taking steps to reduce its global footprint on wildlife around the world.

maned wolf

The maned wolf also faces extinction. Credit: PA

Others agree, explaining that the report needs to function as a call to action.

"Human behaviour continues to drive the decline of wildlife populations globally, with particular impact on freshwater habitats," said Professor Ken Norris, ZSL's science director.

"Importantly, however, these are declines - they are not yet extinctions - and this should be a wake-up call to marshal efforts to promote the recovery of these populations."

Patrick Bergin, chief executive of the African Wildlife Foundation, also said: "The relentless expansion of human populations and economic activities in every corner of the globe, including now the most remote parts of Africa, is clearly pushing more and more wildlife species to the brink."

"We need a major collective act of will in which we place some limits on our own demands for space and resources so that we can continue to share this planet with Africa's elephants, rhinos, large carnivores, great apes and the many other precious species that are an integral part of our world."

Featured Image Credit: PA

Jess Hardiman

Jess Hardiman is a journalist at LADbible. Jess graduated from Manchester University with a BA in Film Studies, English Language and Literature, and has previously worked for Time Out and The Skinny among others.

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