Tens of thousands of species are threatened with extinction as a result of human activities. Here we explore how the extinction risks of terrestrial mammals and birds might change in the next 50 years. Future population growth and economic development are forecasted to impose unprecedented levels of extinction risk on many more species worldwide, especially the large mammals of tropical Africa, Asia and South America. Yet these threats are not inevitable. Proactive international efforts to increase crop yields, minimize land clearing and habitat fragmentation, and protect natural lands could increase food security in developing nations and preserve much of Earth's remaining biodiversity.