Extinctions likely faster now than with dinosaurs

Thu May 27, 2010 10:00pm EDT
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LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A rising human population is probably pushing plants and animals into extinction faster than at any point in the world's history, said veteran British broadcaster and conservationist David Attenborough.

"The problem about these changes is that they are happening at an extremely fast rate, and probably much faster than at any other time," he told Reuters, referring to species destruction.

Earlier this month, the United Nations said that governments had failed to meet a 2010 target to halt a slide in the numbers of wildlife species, or biodiversity.

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) conservation group says extinctions have accelerated in the past 50 years, and are happening 1,000 times faster than without the impact of human activities.

Attenborough reckoned that the only "competitor" for the rate of destruction now was the extinction of the dinosaurs.

"If it is true that the end of the dinosaurs was due to a small asteroid banging into the planet, presumably that might have had very, very swift consequences," he said.

"That has by no means been proved. A lot of the things that disappeared at the end of the cretaceous (period) 65 million years ago did so over a period of millions of years," he said before giving a lecture late on Wednesday at the London Wetland Center, a wildlife preserve.

The 84-year old naturalist laid the blame on a rising world population, projected to reach 9 billion by 2050 from 6.8 billion now. "I am quite certain that things will not be as good in 50 years time as they are now," he said.

But he cautioned against getting too gloomy after a 50-year broadcasting career spent celebrating life on Earth.

"I'm quite sure that people won't care about biodiversity, the variety of wildlife, unless they know something about it. You don't have to say everything has to be about doom and gloom, or everything has to be about mindless wonder. There's plenty of room for both and television does both."

(Reporting by Gerard Wynn, Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)

<p>A South China tiger is pictured at Shanghai zoo July 8, 2008. REUTERS/Aly Song</p>