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We Are Now Losing Wildlife On This Planet At Alarming, Unprecedented Speed

Friday November 21, 2014

By Dr. Anne Bell

The Earth has lost more than half of its wildlife in the past 40 years, according to the World Wildlife Fund’s 2014 Living Planet Report. Released in September, the grim reality it describes is a daily event that shows no signs of abating.

Life’s rich tapestry is unravelling at a speed and on a scale never seen before. While wildlife losses are most severe in developing countries, it is the richer nations that are driving the destruction globally – we are “outsourcing” wildlife decline through our excessive consumption of resources extracted elsewhere. And we are causing similar devastation at home.

What does this catastrophic loss of life look like in Ontario? There are more than 200 species known to be “at risk” in the province, and that number increases every year. A candidate that will soon be considered for at risk listing is the American bumblebee, once the most common bumblebee in eastern North America but now in steep decline.

As for those species already listed, a prime example in northern Ontario is woodland caribou, pushed out of about 50 percent of its historic range in the province, in step with the northern advance of industrial forestry.

In the east there is American eel, once one of the most abundant fish in the St. Lawrence River, Lake Ontario and tributaries, but now one of the most critically endangered creatures in the province. In the last 20 years its numbers in Ontario have dropped by about 99 percent.

In southern Ontario we have numerous turtles in trouble – seven out of our eight turtle species are at risk. One of these, the snapping turtle, is still legally hunted in the province even though scientists believe hunting poses a serious threat to the species.

Many of the biggest wildlife losses in richer nations occurred prior to 1970. Take passenger pigeon for example. Once the most abundant bird in North America, flocks of passenger pigeons flying overhead would darken the skies for hours. With the arrival of Europeans, over-hunting and habitat loss quickly put an end to this spectacle. The last passenger pigeon died in the Cincinnati Zoo in 1914, 100 years ago.

Must we doom other species to the same fate? I believe we can choose a different path, but only with strong political will and broad public engagement.

Perhaps the political leaders we need to turn the tide are among the new slate of elected officials within our municipal councils and at Queen’s Park. If so, they need our support.

That’s where public engagement comes in. For the love of all the creatures with whom we share the planet, it is time to stand up and be counted. Plant a pollinator garden, naturalize your local school ground, join a naturalist organization, and let your family, neighbours and elected officials know that nature matters to you.

We cannot allow the next 40 years to follow the same trajectory as the last 40. If we do, we are condemning our grandchildren to a silent, lonely world.

Learn more about the work of the not-for-profit citizens organization Ontario Nature by visiting its website at

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