Climate change and wildlife
Many of the world’s 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 are already endangered, owing to hunting and habitat loss. Latest figures indicate that as few as 3,200 tigers survive in the wild. Climate change could push them further to the brink of extinction.
For instance, the Sundarbans swamp forests of north-east India and Bangladesh are home to 400 Bengal tigers. It’s the only population of mangrove swamp-dwelling tigers. But sea level there is rising fast, and it’s threatening to engulf what’s left of the tigers’ habitats. In turn, this is leading to more conflict between people and tigers.
Amur leopards and tigers in far eastern Asia – where temperatures have risen 1.3°C in the past century – are at increased risk because their prey species, mainly boar and deer, are likely to relocate as the climate changes.
Find out more about the Amur leopard
In the Himalayas, the thawing snow line means more potential farming land is opening up for alpine communities and their livestock. But this means less space for rare snow leopards, which might then be killed by herders to protect their livestock.
Find out more about snow leopards
Asian elephants 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 potential conflicts with local people.
Find out more about Asian elephants
Greater one-horned rhinos live on floodplain grasslands in Assam and Nepal. They rely on annual monsoon rains to replenish the vegetation they feed 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, the forests and peatland where they live become tinder-like, and prone to serious fires.
Discover more about asian rhinos
Orang-utans in Indonesia and Malaysia have it particularly tough. They’re already endangered by hunting and by clearance of their forests to make way for oil palm plantations. One of the first effects of climate change could be shortages of food that orang-utans rely on caused by unusual rainfall patterns.
In 2007, as many as 1,000 of the remaining 40,000 orang-utans were killed in uncontrolled fires caused by incredibly dry forest conditions.
Find out more about orang-utans
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.
Find out more about the African elephant
The same fate could await the charismatic mountain gorillas of east Africa’s Albertine rift valley. They’re already critically 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 could resort to illegal use of bushmeat, in all its forms.
Find out more about mountain gorillas