Wildlife facing mass extinction 'on dinosaur level'

  • Video report by ITV News Midlands Reporter Ben Chapman

Conservationists have warned of a global "mass extinction" for the first time since the dinosaurs disappeared.

Global wildlife populations are set to fall by more than two-thirds on 1970 levels by the end of the decade.

By 2020, populations of vertebrate species could have fallen by 67% over a 50-year period unless action is taken to reverse the damaging impacts of human activity, experts said.

Species affected include the African elephant, killer whale and Leatherback sea turtle.

Poaching and pollution are the main factors which threaten survival.

But the maned wolf, along with other species such as the giant anteater, are being driven out of their natural habitat in Brazil being converted into farmland.

Disease is leading to the decline of the European eel as well as over-fishing and changes to rivers which impedes its migration to the sea to breed.

Amphibians around the world are being hit by a species of fungus that causes the disease chytridiomycosis - thought to have caused steep declines or extinction of more than 200 species.

And Major Mitchell's cockatoos saw a population crash in Australia.

This was mainly because people were illegally taking eggs for the pet trade, although this is slowly beginning to recover.

The Amur leopard is one of the most endangered species in the world. Credit: Reuters

Mike Barrett, director of science and policy at WWF-UK, said: "We ignore the decline of other species at our peril - for they are the barometer that reveals our impact on the world that sustains us.

"Humanity's misuse of natural resources is threatening habitats, pushing irreplaceable species to the brink and threatening the stability of our climate."

Mr Barrett added that a "serious plan" is needed to protect habitats that requires the cooperation of governments, businesses and citizens.

Maned wolves in Brazil are threatened by grasslands being turned into farmlands. Credit: Martin Harvey/WWF/PA Wire

Professor Ken Norris, director of science at the Zoological Society of London, said: "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."

Which are some of the species under threat?

Killer whales are significantly under threat from organic pollutants. Credit: Reuters
  • African elephants have seen numbers fall by about 111,000 in the past decade mostly due to poaching.

  • Amphibians around the world are being hit by a species of fungus that causes the disease chytridiomycosis, which is believed to have caused steep declines or extinction in over 200 species.

  • European eels are in decline due to disease, over-fishing and changes to rivers which impede its migration to the sea to breed.

  • Killer whale populations in Europe remain under threat from persistent organic pollutants, which are in the mammal's blubber that exceed toxicity thresholds.

  • Leatherback turtle populations have declined between 1989 and 2002 in Las Baulas National Park in Costa Rica due to development and by-catching.

  • Mountain gorillas are at risk from bush meat hunting and their habitats are under threat, meaning there are just 880 left in the wild.

  • Vultures in southeast Asia have seen numbers plummet in the last 20 years due to the cattle drug Diclofenac, which causes kidney failure in birds that eat carcasses of recently treated cattle.