Climate Change – The Devastating Toll On Africa’s Animals
Climate change has produced a number of threats to wildlife. Over time, changing rainfall patterns have transformed habitats and forced animals to move. Increasing temperatures are causing mass die-off events during heat waves and making it hard for animals to find food.
Drought is recurring in parts of the continent. The increased frequency means there’s little or no time to recover before the next one occurs. The wildlife in some of these regions lives alongside people who are also struggling to survive and keep their livestock alive. This puts people and wildlife into conflict as they compete for diminishing sources of water and food.
Climate change can also strongly influence the physiology, behaviour and breeding success of animals. Over the past two decades, the Horn of Africa – specifically Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya – has experienced more intense and frequent droughts. Drought adds to the pressure on resources like water and pasture. This makes livestock and wildlife more susceptible to malnutrition, disease, mass mortalities and competition with each other over resources.
Gabon is home to some of the highest densities of forest elephants. Many of them live in Lopé National Park, a 5,000km² protected area. The condition of these elephants has declined by 11% since 2008 due to a massive collapse in tree-fruiting events.
For birds in arid zones, rising temperatures pose a significant problem. They usually breed in response to rainfall, which often occurs during the hottest time of the year. And birds are mostly active during the day, when they are exposed to the sun’s heat. This is when their vital processes for reproduction take place – such as territorial defence, courtship, finding food for their young and attending the nest.
Breeding attempts of the Kalahari Hornbill all failed when average daily maximum air temperatures exceeded 35.7°C. In the Kalahari, air temperatures have already risen more than 2°C in a few decades. At this rate, by 2027, these birds will not breed at all at this site. They will quickly become locally extinct.