In a report, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) talked about the need for a wake-up call before it’s too late. Global populations of various species of animals have already declined by 58 percent, with the decline being even worse for freshwater species at a staggering rate of 81 percent. And if we don’t take action right now, wildlife populations are expected to drop by two-thirds in less than four years.

It takes a moment for the magnitude of those numbers to sink in, and you might be wondering what could be causing these animal populations to decline so rapidly. You might even expect the answer to be complex, but it’s actually quite simple: Humans. That’s right, our actions are destroying the planet and wiping out the beautiful species that inhabit it. Animal agriculture, palm oil production, and the pollution of our oceans are a few of the contributing factors to habitat loss and degradation, placing wildlife, ecosystems, and our entire planet in danger.

Animal Agriculture

How Humans Are Contributing to the Rapid Decline of Wildlife

ILRI/Wikimedia Commons

Each year, 18 million acres of forest are lost due to degradation from climate change, as well as deforestation from logging, land development, and animal agriculture. According to WWF, “Agriculture currently occupies approximately one-third of Earth’s total land area and accounts for 70 percent of all freshwater use.”

This land is being cleared for crops and to create pastures for cattle, all to keep up with our growing population and increasing demands for food. But before we blame crops, let’s look at some statistics. In the U.S., we dedicate about four million acres of land to produce and 56 million acres to animal agriculture. And while one acre of land can produce 250 pounds of beef, that same acreage can produce 53,000 pounds of potatoes. Clearly, the use of land for animal agriculture is not sustainable, especially when you consider the other ways it negatively impacts the environment.

As land is cleared, wildlife is forced into shrinking habitats where lack of space, as well as loss of prey and increased competition have devastating results. The ever-growing list of vulnerable, endangered, and critically endangered species is alarming, and will only get worse if something doesn’t change.

Palm Oil Production

How Humans Are Contributing to the Rapid Decline of Wildlife

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Palm oil, which is derived from the fruit of the African oil palm tree, is a vegetable oil found in 50 percent of products in the U.S., including packaged snacks, baked goods, and personal care and household products. In food, it’s become a popular substitute for oils that are high in cholesterol or trans-fats. But its popularity is resulting in devastating habitat destruction and the loss of animal lives.

Palm oil is produced in tropical rainforests, where the practice of deforestation is used to make way for palm oil plantations. Rainforests are home to a diversity of species, so many that we haven’t even discovered all of them yet. But when these rainforests are destroyed to make way for plantations, these precious ecosystems are destroyed and animals are left with nowhere to go.

The orangutan, in particular, has been affected by palm oil production, with over 90 percent of their habitat being destroyed over the past 20 years and thousands of orangutans losing their lives annually as a result.

Plastic Pollution

How Humans Are Contributing to the Rapid Decline of Wildlife

MichaelisScientists/Wikimedia Commons

Our obsession with single-use and disposable items contributes to more than 32 million tons of plastic waste generated in the U.S. every year — and only a tiny fraction of that waste is recycled. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a lot of this trash is ending up in our oceans. In the North Pacific Ocean, an enormous patch of swirling litter spanning from North America’s West Coast all the way to Japan has been named the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. It’s estimated that 80 percent of this debris that makes up the patch comes from the land, and the other 20 percent from oil rigs, boaters and cargo ships.

Plastic microbeads, balloons, and plastic bags are often mistaken as food by marine animals; when ingested, they can obstruct their digestive tract, leading to a slow and painful death. There are 700 marine species who are in danger because of the plastic that’s making its way through our oceans — and posing a risk to land animals when it washes up onto beaches.

What You Can Do

We can all make a difference and help prevent further destruction by making small, yet effective changes to the way we live.

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