Climate change and animals
Many of the world's already-threatened species live in areas that will be severely affected by climate change. Here are just a few examples of the increased challenges we're tackling in our conservation work...
Tigers, already endangered through hunting and habitat loss (latest figures indicate as few as 3200 individuals left in the wild) could find climate change the final nail in the coffin.
For instance, in the Sunderbans swamp forests of north-east India and Bangladesh, home to 400 rare Bengal tigers – the only population of mangrove swamp-dwelling tigers – sea level is rising fast, leading to more human-tiger conflict and threatening to engulf what’s left of the tigers’ habitats.
Amur leopards and tigers in far eastern Asia – where temperatures have risen 1.3 degrees in the past century – are at increased risk because their prey species, mainly boar and deer, will likely relocate as the climate changes.
Similarly up in the Himalayas, the thawing snow line means more potential farming land is opening up for alpine communities and their livestock – but it also means less space for rare snow leopards, which might then be killed by herders to protect their own animals.
Asian elephant communities dotted around the Himalayan foothills already have few options for food, but their lives will be harder in a changing climate.
They’ll have to forage outside protected areas, creating more conflicts with local people – and there are no winners when that happens.
The greater one-horned rhino, living on floodplain grasslands in Assam and Nepal, relies on annual monsoon rains to replenish the vegetation it feeds on. Climate change could disrupt that through regular droughts. For the Sumatran rhino, the biggest threat isn’t so much water, it’s fire, as dry seasons get longer and forests and peatland become tinder-like.
Orang-utans in Indonesia and Malaysia have it particularly tough – already endangered by oil palm plantations and hunting, one of the first effects of climate change might be food shortages caused by unusual rainfall patterns. And in 2007, 1000 of the remaining 40,000 orang-utans were killed in uncontrolled fires caused by bone-dry forest conditions.
In Africa, whether climate change brings too much rain (causing floods) or too little rain (bringing more drought and wildfires), some areas may simply become unsuitable for certain species to survive. For instance, by 2080, much of South Africa’s famous Kruger National Park may be uninhabitable for the African elephant.
The same fate could await the charismatic mountain gorillas of east Africa’s Albertine rift valley. They’re already seriously endangered because their forest habitats are being destroyed by commercial logging and agriculture – activities that in turn release more CO2 and raise temperatures, further depleting the vegetation the gorillas need to survive.
And of course if water shortages make local farming more difficult, people sometimes resort to illegal use of 'bushmeat’, in all its forms.
In Europe, the rare Iberian lynx is finding its limited habitats shrinking as temperatures rise and rainfall decreases. Fires and desertification have also reduced populations of the lynx’s main food sources, such as rabbit and duck.