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In addition to making the planet inhospitable for ourselves we are making it impossible for other living things to survive and thrive. Global warming and climate change is making it harder for wildlife especially to thrive. Even today the climate stress on wildlife habitat is tremendous and if we cross the 1.5 degree threshold the consequences will be devastating to plants and animals essential for ecological balance. While the final canary in the mine will be the unchecked shrinking of bee colonies until their extinction other more visible devastations are wreaked upon wildlife.

The devastating effect of warming and acidifying oceans on the reefs across the world has been in the news for a few years now, as is its effect on the rapid decline in flora and how uncomfortable it’s for marine life and even birds. But the focus of this article is the effects of climate change on wildlife especially in buffer zones where man and animal interact. Climate Change and its effect through drought, floods, forest fires, melting glaciers, habitat and food destruction lead to wildlife wandering into areas of human habitation and clashing with humans unsuccessfully for resources.

How they’re resilient: African elephants live across a range of diverse habitats, from tropical rainforest to arid desert in 37 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. This means that they are tolerant of a wide range of climatic extremes. They also feed on a variety of plant species, and food is widely available in their habitat. If a few plant species are impacted by a changing climate, African elephants can simply feed on a host of others.
How they’re vulnerable: African elephants require 150-300 liters of water per day for drinking, in addition to what they need for bathing and play. Droughts can lead to population decline in a short period of time. African elephant reproduction is also tied to rainfall; birth peaks line up with rainfall peaks.
(Source: WWF / Photo: © Martin Harvey, WWF-Canon)

A lot has been written about the underreporting of the effect of climate change on threatened and endangered species but it goes beyond the obvious. Approximately 50 percent threatened mammals and about 25 percent respond negatively to climate change.

In a warming planet the moisture content in leaves such as that of Eucalyptus is down. With these leaves being the only food for koalas we are seeing reports of koalas actually drinking water. Instead of conserving their energy these marsupials have to look for water sources in a continent with devastating summers. While there were older reports of this phenomenon during summer now we find this happening almost the whole year round. And in a place where water is at a premium this unusual stress can lead to the national animal being viewed as a pest. It’s a short step from being a pest to being culled as seen in many states in India.

In the Indian context climate change exacerbated long-drawn out drought coupled with cloudburst flooding, unusual high temperatures, sea ingress, glacial melting and wildfires are leading to more face-offs between man and beast over resources. Watering holes within forests are drying up and the ones in buffer zones have dried up or been polluted more and more animals are wandering into villages and cities to quench their thirst or get an easy meal. The eerie and dry landscapes within what used to be green reserves are poignant in the photo series in the Hindu. Migration is no longer human and from urban to rural but has become animal migration from forests to human habitations in search of resources lost to them by our greed. Scientists estimate that both flora and fauna have to migrate away from increasingly unfavorable climatic conditions at a rate of 1 meter a year to keep within optimal climates to survive.

Reports of urban invasions by tigers, leopards, wild tuskers, rhinos, buffalos/bison, herds of deer and very aggressive and innovative monkeys regularly make the news as the space and resources to coexist peacefully shrinks due to pollution, unsustainable development and climate change.

In the 10,000 square kilometers of mangroves forests – UNESCO heritage site the Sundarbans (literally pretty forests) – the habitat of the Indian national animal the Royal Bengal Tiger is shared by 4 million people and 200 tigers in 2 countries amidst the Bay of Bengal, and the mighty rivers: Ganges, Meghna and Brahamaputra. Here the rising sea levels are eating into an already concentrated buffer zone of man-animal coexistence bringing about conflict over resources for survival. A pilot project that’s helping ease the conflict is a project of solar powered off-grid electrification that’s bringing light to keep the big cats away from habitation and sources of revenue that don’t involve venturing into tiger territory. Solar powered pumps attached to bore wells (Nagarahole National Park) are also used to revive water bodies within forest reserves in other parts of India so renewables are coming being used to adapt to climate change.

The Sundarban is a National Park, Tiger Reserve, and a Biosphere Reserve in West Bengal.  .The delta is densely covered by mangrove forests, and is one of the largest reserves for the Bengal tiger. It is also home to a variety of bird, reptile and invertebrate species, including the salt-water crocodile.

While a major portion of the snow leopards’ territory in the Tibetan plateau (Altai, Qilian and Tian Shan-Pamir-Hindu Kush-Karakoram mountain ranges) is climate proof thanks to its unique ecosystem melting glaciers in more vulnerable portions of snow leopard territory brings these highly endangered cats into conflict with people: 330 million people live within 10 km of glacial birthplaces of rivers and with the ever-rising snow lines and tree lines as well as melting glaciers the face-off with the “ghost of the mountains” is imminent. Exceeding the Paris Agreement commitments could mean an acceleration of their endangerment and extinction. Many tribal beliefs about tigers and snow leopards portend that once these big cats are gone humanity’s time on earth will be at the final countdown. So save the wild cats to save yourself by committing to a smaller ecological footprint and work towards getting your governments to commit to sustaible development and the national action plans to meet their Paris Climate Agreement targets.

Leopards in India live in protected areas that border major megapolises including financial and services hubs Mumbai (Sanjay Gandhi National Park) and Bengaluru (Bannerghatta National Park) with these cities and others creeping into forests which are now going dry and with a dearth of prey, the leopards are more frequently wandering into the cities and not necessarily with usual stealth. They get stuck in tanks, wells and schools. Causalities to both humans and wandering wild cats are inevitable. Many villagers are calling for culling of elephants because they are wandering into villages in search of water and foliage. First we slash and burn their habitat, cause their food and water sources to dry up thanks to the 4 million ppm of carbon dioxide superheating the planet and then when they migrate for survival they are deemed dangerous pests!

Humanity’s greed is devastating all life forms, as the Cree prophesy goes “When the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten and the last stream poisoned, you will realize that you cannot eat money.” But it might be too late for us then! We can get off this path to hell. We just need decouple our economy from fossil fuels, commit to a low-carbon growth, rejuvenate the soil to enable it to trap carbon, increase afforestation, and adopt sustainable development, all in the cause of halting and reversing climate change and global warming!

Raakhee Suryaprakash

About Raakhee Suryaprakash

Raakhee is writer, editor, analyst and nascent social entrepreneur based out of Chennai, India. Her areas of interests include sustainable development, renewable energy, environment and climate change, women's empowerment, rural development, leveraging corporate social responsibility for sustainable development, and foreign policy.