Climate change endangers elephants, study says

Climate change endangers elephants
Calves are most at risk from rising temperatures.

By making new use of historical records, scientists have shown that climate change could have a greater impact on Myanmar's elephants' dwindling numbers than previously thought.

Hannah Mumby from the University of Sheffield, who led the study, found that the already faces further struggle as even the slightest can lower their chances of survival dramatically.

leaves the animals at risk of drought, disease and death as the heat causes freshwater supplies to dwindle, to spread faster and brings with it one of the biggest killers of elephants in Myanmar - .

The study found that elephants thrive at an optimum temperature of 23oC, and deviations from this leave them more vulnerable. The Myanmar region is predicted to experience a rise of 0.1 to 3oC, over the next 30 to 40 years – a seemingly small change, but one that could wipe out the entire .

'We think of elephants as very resilient animals, very robust, but then we see at the same time there is a very narrow range at which they are at their optimal survival. If the climate changes by even a few degrees it can substantially reduce survival,' says Mumby.

She continues: 'We found that the youngest elephants, the , are quite susceptible to extremes. Once we move out of their optimal to their maximum temperature, it doubles their .'

The discovery that calves are particularly threatened by rising temperatures is important, since these offspring are integral for the survival of the species. Elephants, like humans, reproduce later in life and if the calves die before they can mate then the species will be unable to survive.

The variations in temperature between seasons in Myanmar are already large, but the climate projections show that not only will temperatures rise but there will be fewer months. The higher the rainfall, the better the chance of survival is for the elephants; dryer hotter months could prove to be fatal.

There has been little previous research into how long-lived species will adapt to climate change, since the time required to study generations of these animals exceeds the lifespan of most scientists. Mumby was given access to a unique database which held information on the lives of around 800 Asian elephants from 1960 to 2000. 'We have captured the whole lives of generations, their month to month survival, as well as the month to month climate, so we can look at small scale individual changes in a way we'd never be able to if we began collecting data now.'

Elephant life spans are similar to humans, but that is not the only similarity. Studying how climate change can affect elephant behaviour could provide an insight into how humans will react under changing environmental conditions. Mumby states that 'any similarities or differences are enlightening for understanding both species and their responses, particularly since both are long-lived animals that have survived events that caused the extinction of several other species, such as the last ice age.'

Explore further

Social networking elephants never forget

More information: Mumby, H., et al. In press. Climatic variation and age-specific survival in Asian elephants from Myanmar. Ecology
Journal information: Ecology

Provided by PlanetEarth Online

This story is republished courtesy of Planet Earth online, a free, companion website to the award-winning magazine Planet Earth published and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

Citation: Climate change endangers elephants, study says (2013, January 28) retrieved 18 October 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Jan 28, 2013
A catastrophic "climate" can't be real when none of the IPCC warnings say it WILL defiantly happen, just "might" and "potentially" and "likely" etc. could happen? And science only agrees it is "real" and "happening" and "COULD" cause unstoppable warming and never have they said the worst crisis imaginable WILL happen most definitely. So who is saying it "WILL" happen? -only lazy copy and paste news editors and politicians and ideologues riding the back of exaggerated climate change fears. It's been 27 years now of intensive research and almost all of it was into effects not causes of an assumed to be real crisis of climate change. These lab coat consultants played us like fools.
How close to the point of no return from complete runaway unstoppable warming will the world of science take us before they stop saying "maybe" and start saying "will be"?

Jan 28, 2013
"Climate change endangers elephants, study says" Scrap your car or Dumbo gets it! Pay carbon taxes and live like a medieval peasant or you'll kill kittens! And bunnies! The levels of desperation shown in the latest wheezes to try and keep people onside with this giant confidence trick never fails to amaze me.

Jan 28, 2013
Looks like Andrew Fernie is a new user as of Today.

Welcome back UbVonTard.

The question is if Dumbo's species has more of a right to exist than your right to waste energy unnecessarily.

The answer to that question is of course yes.

And it will remain Yes no matter how long you ignorantly whine about it.

Jan 28, 2013
mememine is right on this point. Space aliens may yet save us from the effects of CO2 pollution. So on that logical basis we should continue to poison ourselves.

"A catastrophic "climate" can't be real when none of the IPCC warnings say it WILL defiantly happen" - mememine

Jan 28, 2013
Wolfram Alpha to the rescue: the country of Burma (Myanmar) has been steadily cooling since the 1960s.


Jan 28, 2013
Perhaps there is a reason you only mention one country?

From Wolfram Alpha: http://www.wolfra...perature

study | linear trend
HadCRUT3vGL | (1.3 ± 0.2) °F/century
HadCRUT4GL | (1.3 ± 0.2) °F/century
Mann2003a | (0.57 ± 0.10) °F/century
Mann2008f | (1.27 ± 0.19) °F/century
NCDCGL | (1.2 ± 0.2) °F/century

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more