The signs of climate change are still subtle enough that we as humans can go about our days forgetting that the effects are underway, and that significant damage has already been done to our planet. It’s easy to get caught up in our day-to-day lives, and on top of everything else we have to worry about, it’s even easier to brush the real threat of climate change off to the wayside.
Conditions are only growing worse for hundreds of biodiverse habitats and mammal, amphibian, reptile, bird, and plant species that are affected by climate change alone. As earth’s temperature rises, and as climate change takes its toll, more and more species will become casualties in the Holocene Extinction (or Sixth Mass Extinction, as some call it).
African elephants are on the battleground as they face ongoing damage caused by climate change. An already vulnerable species targeted and killed off by poachers, elephants have an even tougher road ahead of them when climate change is thrown into the mix.
So what exactly does climate change mean for elephants?
Here are 5 ways elephants are - and will continue to be - affected by climate change:
Shortage of Food
Climate change has a chain reaction on all living species, and it extends all the way down to our planet’s water and vegetation supply. As temperatures rise, plants will no longer be able to sustain life and thrive in their natural environments. When plants die off due to drought, food supply to dozens of creatures, from insects to elephants, are cut off in a single biodiverse habitat.
Elephants are already competing for their food because they are competing against humans for land. Land competition is an ongoing problem between humans and elephants in sub-Saharan Africa. The surging population of humans living in Africa requires a surplus of land for settlement, farming, timber, and pasture. Only more land will be required as the human population grows.
As humans will require and use up more land, an elephant’s food supply of tree foliage, grass, and bark, will become more scarce. Climate change only worsens the already limited supply of food in sub-Saharan Africa. Adult African elephants need to consume between 200 and 600 pounds of food per day. As more plant species die off due to rising global temperatures, elephants will struggle to find food more than they already do.
Scarcer Living Space
As previously mentioned, elephants are already struggling to find sustainable land to thrive in due to competition with humans residing in sub-Saharan Africa. Because of their gentle giant size, elephants need lots of land to grow and thrive in.
Not only will their food supply be greatly limited as global warming takes further toll on the climate, elephants will not be able to survive on the land. There won’t be enough room for elephant populations, and there will not be enough vegetation and water to go around.
Overheated & Less Protection
An ever increasing global temperature means hotter temperatures will be felt year round. We’re already seeing the effects of rising temperatures due to global warming in the Arctic.
So what do rising temperatures mean for the African savanna?
As global temperatures rise, the African savanna’s water supply will dry up
Elephants need water like any other living creature, but not in the obvious ways you may think. Not only do elephants consume about 50 gallons of water, on average, per day, they also need water to cool off, bathe, and play in.
Elephants are social creatures with an expansive emotional capacity. One of the many social activities elephants enjoy is playing in water. Not only does bathing in water cool elephants down during the highest of temperatures, it’s an opportunity for elephants to socialize with one another.
Elephants need water baths because they do not have perspiratory glands. Elephants don’t sweat, so they rely on water to cool off and to wash away parasites. Mud baths are another way elephants cool off. Mud also acts as a natural sunscreen
As global temperatures continue to rise due to climate change, elephants will struggle to protect themselves from illness and overheating.
During the rainy season, elephants mate more frequently. The change in weather patterns will grow harder to predict as a result of climate change. Some are predicting an increase in annual rainfall. Others predict that heavy rainfall could occur in sporadic increments as opposed to occurring cyclically, like in a season. As a result of this, it’s possible that droughts could intensify and last longer.
While it’s not clear what’s in store for our planet’s rainfall, the uncertainty poses a risk to future generations of elephants.
Destruction of the African Ecosystem
Elephants largely mold the African landscape, and as elephants continue to be affected by climate change, so will the rest of the ecosystem.
In an effort to locate sources of salt naturally found in the soil, elephants dig deep into the earth with their tusks. By doing this, elephants consume salt and minerals necessary for their survival. In the process, elephants also make these openings for salt and other minerals, known as “salt licks”, available to other creatures.
As elephants naturally search for food, they create trails, water run-offs, and more grasslands as they pull down tree branches and bushes. Other animals in need of grass, water, and space rely on the work of elephants.
With a combination of rising global temperatures, limited land, and a decrease in vegetation and water supply, elephants will not be the only creatures harmed in sub-Saharan Africa.
How Can You Help Elephants Affected by Climate Change?
The first thing to do in approach to climate change is to get educated. Unfortunately, climate change is still widely misunderstood despite scientific evidence and the growing number of signs. But getting educated and understanding the damage already done to our planet is the primary step towards going in the next best direction.
Getting educated on what can be done is also crucial. As humans, our dependence on fossil fuels and nonrenewable energy has triggered climate change. So as humans, it’s our responsibility to change what we depend on for energy, and how we depend on it. You can look into different ways to live a healthier and environmentally-friendlier way of life.
There are several wildlife organizations specifically geared towards elephant conservation. After researching into these various organizations and how they support elephant conservation, you can donate, volunteer, and stay informed.