There is hope.
Those are the words of the WWF after a
summer of scorching temperatures, raging wildfires and deadly droughts. Climate change and the destruction of the natural environment is playing havoc with our planet – but the charity’s message is that there is still time to act.
‘Together we can stop the destruction of nature, secure a safer climate, and bring our world back to life,’ it says.
However, there is no time to lose.
Global wildlife population sizes have declined by 69% on average since 1970, with a quarter of UK mammals now at risk of extinction. In the plant world, 40% of species are at risk of disappearing, while the destruction of essential tropical rainforests continues apace.
Many believe the sixth mass extinction event is underway.
Across the world humanity is pulling together to show that the end of this chapter is not written, that those species at risk can flourish once again.
From soaring tiger populations and the return of beavers in London, to advances in tracing elusive species and restored coral reefs, nature is rebuilding. Not everywhere, but enough to keep the hope.
And with that in mind, the WWF has highlighted 11 more species that need our help to overcome the threat to their survival.
Europe is home to more than 90% of the Atlantic puffin population, with the UK providing a vital nesting habitat for these beloved ‘clowns of the sea’ in the summer. However, their numbers have been crashing in the last two decades – food sources are on a knife edge due to overfishing and climate change is making things worse, driving drastic declines in puffins and other seabirds. Global warming is leading to more severe and frequent weather events, which affects the puffins that spend most of their time at sea. High winds and heavy rainfall affect the birds’ ability to dive and find food. During the breeding season, extreme weather chills the eggs while storms destroy nests with chicks (Picture: Wild Wonders of Europe/Pal Hermansen/WWF) Highly adapted to harsh and cold conditions, snow leopards have roamed the high, remote mountains of central and south Asia for more than two million years. Currently threatened by poaching, habitat degradation, prey declines and livestock depredation causing conflict with local communities. It is estimated there are as few as 4,000 snow leopards left across 12 countries. Increased temperatures and rainfall are altering the elusive felines’ mountainous climates. The tree line is expected to shift higher up the mountains, particularly in the Greater Himalaya region, which will drive the growth of plant species that do not provide ideal habitat and grazing for the snow leopard’s prey. In addition, the change might benefit other predators better adapted to the forest than snow leopards – such as wolves and common leopards – resulting in competition for food (Picture: Sascha Fonseca/WWF-UK) The Brazilian Amazon has a high diversity of primate species that are found nowhere else on Earth. Primates play a critical role in maintaining biodiversity – by spreading the seeds of trees, they contribute to the growth of forests, helping with carbon storage and the regulation of global temperatures. But warming temperatures endanger the very existence of several species. Climate change is predicted to make the homes of many Amazon primates inhospitable. In the face of this new reality, they will have to adapt or move to more suitable areas. In many cases, there might be little other habitat available – a situation often made worse by deforestation (Picture: Hugh M Smith/WWF-US) Among the most important pollinators, bumblebees can generate heat while flying and their fuzzy bodies act as a warm coat. With these special adaptations, they thrive in cold climates. But they are susceptible to overheating and a warming world is pushing them to temperatures they cannot tolerate, even in the UK. While some bumblebees have responded to the hotter temperatures by colonising in cooler, more northerly regions, this has not been enough to compensate for the losses the species has faced. The extent of their range expansion is far smaller than the extent of range lost, which could push some bumblebee species towards extinction (Picture: Ola Jennersten/WWF-Sweden) Hippos are known as ecosystem engineers, exerting a profound influence on the freshwater systems they depend on for their survival. Today they face multiple threats to their existence, including habitat destruction, poaching for meat and ivory, and persecution due to conflicts with people. However, like many other African wildlife species, hippos are now threatened even further by climate change. Rising temperatures, prolonged periods of drought and erratic rainfall cause a reduction in water levels and quality, and high temperatures also pose a threat to hippos. As large, primarily aquatic animals, they are not well adapted to high temperatures out of water, making them particularly vulnerable to drought conditions (Picture: naturepl.com/Anup Shah/WWF) Millions of people love waking up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee, and this culture supports livelihoods in coffee growing regions all over the world. But the true wake-up call is the urgent need to tackle climate change. The Arabica Coffee plant thrives at average annual temperatures of between 18C and 22C and can tolerate temperatures up to 24C – but the species does not cope well with warming conditions, low or unpredictable rainfall, or extreme weather events. Exposure to high temperatures damages the plants, which become more vulnerable to the pests and diseases that are thriving under a warming climate. For example, higher temperatures, intense rain and persistent humidity create a welcoming environment for the coffee leaf rust fungus that reduces the ability of plants to photosynthesize and produce coffee berries (Picture: Jürgen Freund/WWF) As the UK’s only true native hares, mountain hares living in the Highlands of Scotland have evolved a brilliant strategy to escape predators. In the summer, they display a brown coat that blends in with the environment. In October, they moult and switch to a white coat that keeps them well camouflaged in the snow. Then in March, they moult again and revert back to their summer outfit. But the strategy is not working so well in a warming climate. Annual snow cover in the Scottish Highlands has declined by over 37 days on average between 1960 and 2016. This means the hares’ camouflage is now mismatched to their environment for more than a month each year longer compared to 1960. During that time, they exhibit striking white fur against a snowless background, which leaves them more vulnerable to predators who can spot them more easily on the dark mountainside (Picture: Andrew Parkinson/WWF-UK) With deep blue colours and an enchanting perfume, bluebell woods in full bloom are one of most magical experiences associated with springtime in the UK. But the sight may become rarer in the future. A member of the lily family, the bluebell overwinters as a bulb and emerges in the spring to flower between the middle of April and late May. Temperature controls the plant’s development and flowering. In the spring and early summer, drought can reduce their growth, and warmer temperatures can impede germination and can shift the timing of flowering. Plants have optimum time and conditions for developing leaves and flowers which give them the best chance to grow and reproduce. As temperatures rapidly change, bluebells are one of a handful of plants that are unlikely to be able to adapt quickly enough to this new normal (Picture: Global Warming Images/WWF) Emperor penguins, the largest of all living penguin species, are uniquely adapted to living in the extreme conditions of Antarctica. They require stable, fast ice for at least nine months of the year as a platform to mate, incubate their eggs, raise their chicks, and replace their feathers during the annual moult to adventure to sea. Emperor penguins are vulnerable to different kinds of change in sea ice, and these changes, such as melting or break-up, can affect their breeding success – and so the continued existence of their populations. If global temperatures continue rising as they are today, the total number of emperor penguins will decrease dramatically by 2100. All known colonies will decline and most will be quasi-extinct by the end of the century (Picture: naturepl.com/Bryan and Cherry Alexander/WWF) Warm-water coral reefs support some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet, providing shelter, food and spawning grounds to thousands of marine species. In the last 30 years, half of the planet’s tropical coral reefs have disappeared because of pollution, overfishing and unsustainable coastal development. More recently they have been affected by ocean acidification and extreme temperatures driven by climate change, which are leading to large-scale and back-to-back coral bleaching events, which when sustained, can cause mortality. IPCC projections show that even if we limit temperature rises to 1.5C, coral reefs will suffer significant losses of area and local extinctions – with a further decline of 70-90% by 2050. At 2C, more than 99% of corals will be lost. When coral is lost, many finfish and shellfish species disappear as well, affecting millions of people who depend on reef fish and ecotourism for food security and income (Picture: Antonio Busiello/WWF-US) Found in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans, leatherback turtles are the largest and deepest-diving of all living turtles, with adults weighing up to half a tonne. However, these gentle giants are sensitive to the smallest change in temperature. The sex of a marine turtle is determined during the incubation of the egg on the nesting beach where it was laid, and the mix of males and females depends on the temperature of the sand. Hotter sand – which is consistent with global warming – leads to a disproportionately higher number of female turtles. If temperatures climb too high and things get even worse, eggs would fail to hatch, which could threaten the survival of leatherbacks and other turtle populations (Picture: naturepl.com/Graham Eaton/WWF) For more information, see WWF’s 2021 report Feeling the Heat: The fate of nature beyond 1.5°C of global warming
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