Polar bears and 50 other species threatened by climate change
Climate change has emerged as a more urgent issue than ever, especially considering the Trump administration’s moves to roll back Environmental Protection Agency guidelines on carbon emissions, including those for coal-fueled power plants, as well as relaxing fuel efficiency standards put in place by the Obama administration.
Animals such as koalas, sea turtles, and polar bears find themselves at the heart of the crisis, and those three are just a start. Some reports say a third of the world's animal species will become extinct by the middle of the century if humans continue to release harmful greenhouse gases at the current rate. A recent U.N. report puts the number at as many as 1 million species at risk of extinction due to climate change, and species loss is occurring exponentially faster than it has in the past due to human activity. Land use changes currently account for some of the accelerated extinction, but more and more, climate change is becoming a bigger force in putting certain animals on the endangered species list.
Some animals are able to adapt to alterations in temperature and weather, but others can survive or feed only in certain climates. Take the polar bear, which depends on sea ice for hunting and mating. Scientists note that climate change is causing sea ice to disappear at an alarming rate, threatening the polar bear’s survival. Losing the polar bear, as well as other plants and animals, is not only a deeply tragic loss: It has huge ramifications for human life as well. The same U.N. report noted that this loss of biodiversity threatens food and water supplies as well as other resources that humans count on for survival.
Read on to learn about 50 of the world’s animal species that fall into the categories of vulnerable, endangered, and critically endangered due to climate change.
Story updated by Isabel Sepulveda.
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These alpine felines can be found in the mountains of China, Nepal, and India, among other Asian countries. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) classifies the snow leopard as vulnerable and cautions that treeline shift from greenhouse gases could significantly deplete the animal’s habitat. Dwindling populations of this big cat’s prey, such as pikas and hares, also play a role in its status. Although the leopard has gone from "endangered" to "at risk," the species is still slated to lose about 10% of its population over the next three generations.
This vulnerable species of bear—and longtime logo of the WWF—dwells mainly in bamboo forests in the mountains of Western China. Increasing temperatures cause the panda’s main food source, bamboo, to abruptly flower and die, which causes the bears to seek alternative areas to feed and live. In order to maintain a healthy diet, pandas must consume 26 to 84 pounds of bamboo every day.
Green sea turtle
Found in tropical and subtropical waters all over the world, green sea turtles, like others of their kind, remain sensitive throughout their lives to ocean temperatures. The temperature of the sand in which their eggs are laid affect the sex of the turtle hatchlings, and rising ocean temperatures are creating more female sea turtles. That poses a threat to the genetic diversity of the species. Plus, increasing sea levels due to polar ice cap melting makes it more difficult for sea turtles to lay their eggs on beaches. The WWF classifies the green sea turtle as endangered.
These Africa-dwelling giants are divided into two subspecies: the savanna elephant, which resides in planes and woodlands, and the smaller forest elephant, which inhabits central and western African equatorial forests. These elephants, classified as vulnerable, are sensitive to the heat, and continued global warming dampens the animal’s ability to reproduce. Confined dispersal due to habitat fragmentation, along with modest genetic diversity, affect the elephant’s ability to adapt to rising temperatures. Perhaps the most important factor in the African elephants' survival is their need for a great deal of freshwater, which directly affects their reproduction and migration.
Native to the mountains of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the remaining mountain gorillas are now protected in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Volcanoes National Park, and Virunga National Park. In the wild, rising temperatures threaten to shift certain types of plants to higher elevations, leaving the critically endangered gorilla with fewer nutrition options. In order to adapt to changing conditions, the gorilla habitats may need to be expanded beyond these parks.
This speedy big cat makes sub-Saharan Africa its home, but it can also be found in southern Algeria and northern Niger. Rising temperatures apparently have caused the male cheetah's sperm to develop abnormally and has diminished male testosterone levels, impacting the animal’s ability to reproduce. Also, climate change has taken a toll on the gazelle, one of the cheetah’s favorite meals. As such, the feline has to seek out herbivore options that are lower in protein than the gazelle. Because its largest population hovers at around 3,500, the cheetah is considered vulnerable—though some scientists claim it should be listed as endangered.
Poison dart frog
Residing mainly in the rainforests of Central America and South America, this critically endangered species of frog, like all frogs, relies on water to sustain itself in tadpole form. As temperatures continue to shoot up due to global warming, sources of water start to diminish in some rainforest areas, which threatens tadpoles’ survival. Human activities that cause habitat fragmentation make it even harder for species such as this to withstand changes in climate. The poison dart frog has only one natural predator, a snake that is immune to the frog’s toxicity.
This endangered big cat roams the tropical and woodland forests of eastern Russia, India, Bangladesh, and Nepal, among other Asian countries. Several climate-related factors contribute to the tiger’s endangered status: Rising sea levels impinge on coastal habitats for Bengal tigers; changing temperatures encroach on habitats for Siberian tigers, ultimately causing fewer feeding options; wildfires threaten to diminish Siberian tiger dwelling places and food sources; and, although human-caused, deforestation contributes to changing climates. That doesn’t bode well for the Sumatran tiger, which is nearing extinction.
Found in South American waters as well as the Arctic, dolphins of all types are threatened by climate change. As global warming relentlessly ratchets up ocean temperatures, populations of some dolphin prey have started to decrease. Changing ocean currents also affect the distribution of fish on which dolphins feed, as well as channels in which dolphins migrate. Sixteen species of dolphins (and whales) are categorized in danger of extinction, such as the New Zealand Maui dolphin and several types of river dolphins.
These herbivorous creatures are also called the “lesser panda” and “red bear-cat,” and live mainly in the eastern Himalayas. Red pandas have been classified as endangered as they face the degradation of their main food source: bamboo. This leads to habitat loss and fragmentation, similar to the effects on the giant panda.2018 All rights reserved.