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African Elephants and Climate Change

Overview

This assessment is one in a series resulting from a WWF study that assesses the vulnerability of numerous species to the effects of climate change. For each species, we also recommend climate-adaptive management strategies. View other species in the series.

African Elephants (Loxodonta africana) occur across a range of diverse habitats, are exposed to broad climate variability, and feed on a number of different foods. The flexibility inherent in these traits, along with a relatively large population size, contribute to their resilience to a changing climate.

However, a number of other traits make them vulnerable to a changing climate, including sensitivity to high temperatures and susceptibility to a variety of diseases. Additionally, an increasingly limited dispersal ability due to habitat fragmentation, coupled with a long generation time and moderate amounts of genetic variation, may limit the ability of the species to adapt to a changing climate.

But the biggest concern for elephants is their need for large amounts of fresh water, and the influence this has on their daily activities, reproduction and migration. Other threats—like poaching, habitat loss and human-elephant conflict—remain, and have the potential to increase due to the effects of climate stressors on humans and resulting changes in livelihoods.

Priorities for climate-informed African elephant conservation should include securing fresh water; maintaining and increasing suitable, connected habitat; and increasing the monitoring for disease and other causes of mortality. It is also essential to create improved conditions for people to adapt to current and future changes in climate, and to continue to reduce threats such as poaching.

Determining species vulnerability

The study identified the key vulnerabilities of a species based on four factors:

Sensitivity: the inability of the species to persist, as is, under changing climatic conditions.

Adaptive capacity: the ability of the species to respond to changes in climate.

Exposure: the extent of climatic change and variation that the species encounters and is projected to encounter.

Other threats: any other relevant threats, as well as the human responses to climate change that exacerbate these threats.

elephant range map © WWF African elephant range