September 17, 2020

A Wake-Up Call

A New Report Finds Global Wildlife Populations in Steep Decline and Implores Humanity to Act

By Dr. Amy Levine, Director of Field Conservation Programs, and Brian Aucone, Senior Vice President of Animal Sciences


Here in Colorado, it’s not difficult to see we are right smack dab in the middle of unprecedented environmental catastrophe. The wildfires consuming our natural areas are causing sheets of ash to settle on our rooftops and drive us back indoors, where we take shelter to avoid the unhealthy smoke-filled air, and remain further isolated from one another to prevent the spread of the worst pandemic in more than 100 years. The situation is a wake-up call—a call to action—for each and every one of us.

Last week, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) released its 13th biennial Living Planet Report, which showed that global wildlife populations continue to decline at alarming rates that are not unsustainable for both natural ecosystems and us—the humans that rely on these healthy, thriving ecosystems for our own survival. More than 120 experts from across the globe found that wildlife populations have declined by 68% between 1970 and 2016. These findings echo other recent reports, including one released in 2019 by the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which revealed that more than 1 million species of plants and animals currently face a very real threat of extinction.

There is one common thread between what is happening here in our state and to wildlife and wild places around the globe—it’s the result of human activity. However, all is not lost. We can also be the solution. The WWF report outlines a pioneering model that shows, if we act now, we still have the opportunity to not only slow, but reverse this trend. The reversal must start with empathy for the creatures of our planet. It will require each of us to become more aware about what is happening and how we can interact with and utilize the planet we share in ways that support life rather than consume it. Most importantly, we must all act to make this a reality.

Conservation organizations like Denver Zoo and many others around the world are starting to turn the tide. Our conservation efforts in Vietnam are protecting critically endangered primates living on the brink of extinction and our work in Peru is paving the way to saving some of the world’s most unique, fully aquatic amphibians. And in another bright spot highlighted in the press last week, a recent study led by Newcastle University in the United Kingdom and Birdlife International—and co-authored by Sarah King of Colorado State University—found that at least 28 bird and mammal species have been saved from extinction through conservation efforts, including those led by zoos and aquariums. It shows that zoo-led field conservation programs like those led by Denver Zoo, as well as initiatives like the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Species Survival Plans and Saving Animals From Extinction programs, are critical pieces of the conservation puzzle.

If everyone joins Denver Zoo—and other wildlife conservation organizations around the globe—in making changes and inspiring others to join the cause; together, we can be successful in shaping a resilient planet. Now more than ever, it is clear that the choices humans make and the actions people take directly impact the health of our natural world. We can no longer question the interconnectedness of our lives – of our own health – with natural ecosystems around the globe. We are connected. The future of a healthy planet is truly in our hands, and this report is a wake-up call. It is one we must answer.


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