When we think of climate change, we often point out the obvious: extreme weather conditions like heatwaves and hurricanes. However, many of us forget that we're not the only ones experiencing these conditions. Animals are, too.
Last year, a study found climate change could cause one-third of all wildlife to become extinct by 2070. Severe weather patterns, changes in fragile ecosystems, and the destruction of once-lush habitats all play a role in animal extinction. Animals are also vulnerable because many of their habitats are in areas drilled for oil and gas. For marine species, overfishing and pollution are changing the environment the creatures live in.
While climate change is a threat to both human and animal populations, we can start living more sustainably to push back on its effects. We can also take the time to learn about the animals we know and adore to discover how their lives are changing.
Take a look at these 10 species to learn more about how climate change affects wildlife.
10 Endangered Animals Threatened by Climate Change
1. Mountain Gorilla
The United Nations reports there are only about 1,000 mountain gorillas left in the wild. Climate change is a leading cause of habitat destruction. Unfortunately for mountain gorillas, their habitats are experiencing long periods without rain, meaning they need to travel elsewhere for food. Gorillas are herbivores, and to find plants, they travel into human territory, putting them at risk of becoming targets for poachers.
Yes, coral is an animal, not a plant. Corals are sessile animals—they permanently attach themselves somewhere (like the ocean floor) and capture food from the water. For the last few decades, coral populations have been decreasing across both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Two big issues that make coral an endangered species are pollution and warmer waters. Coral bleaching is caused by a rise in water temperatures, so corals cannot hold onto algae. Without algae—or without clean enough water for algae to grow—coral turns white and dies.
3. Bengal Tiger
Similar to mountain gorillas, Bengal tigers are also vulnerable to illegal poaching when their habitat is destroyed. World Land Trust reports there are less than 2,000 Bengal tigers left in the wild because humans are hunting them. Humans are also hunting their food, making it harder for the tigers to survive. Another study shows that climate change and rising sea levels could wipe away Bengal tigers' habitats within 50 years. Remember Tiger King? There are more Bengal tigers living in captivity in the U.S. than in their native habitat in Asia.
4. Monarch Butterfly
Did you know monarch butterflies travel between 2,000-3,000 miles every year? Because monarchs migrate, they rely on native plants like milkweed as a food source during their flights. However, climate change affects monarch populations by causing extreme weather fluctuations and confusing their normal travel patterns. The World Wildlife Federation (WWF) reports deforestation—a process in which trees are cut and burned, releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere—harms the butterflies' habitats, decreasing the population.
5. Green Sea Turtle
If green sea turtles look familiar to you, then you've probably seen Finding Nemo. These turtles can live to be over 100 years old and ride ocean currents to get around. However, the increase in water temperatures has endangered green sea turtles. Warm water has a different density than cold water: As the oceans warm, the current patterns change. NASA reports warmer currents can push sea turtles into new territories with potential predators. Oil spills also pollute sea turtle habitats and can be harmful during mating season.
6. Polar Bear
When many of us think about melting ice caps, polar bears come to mind. And for good reason: polar bears depend on those ice caps for survival. As the climate warms, the polar bear's habitat disappears. Without a safe place to live, polar bears have to swim for long periods to find a spot to build dens and reproduce. Polar Bears International reports warmer waters are also carrying pollution to polar bear habitats, putting them in danger.
7. Adélie Penguin
Adélie penguins are one of eight penguin species living in Antarctica. The species is nearly extinct, with scientists reporting overfishing in the Antarctic Peninsula: There are less fish and krill for the penguins to eat. Similar to polar bears and green sea turtles, Adélie penguins also depend on cold ocean currents and glaciers. As climate change warms our oceans, these adorable birds will continue to lose their habitats.
There are two cheetah populations left: African and Asian. According to National Geographic, there are less than 8,000 African cheetahs and only about 50 Asian cheetahs left in the world. Cheetahs have nearly faced extinction several times before, but this time it's different. With climate change causing extreme droughts, the habitat that cheetahs would normally call home is slowly being wiped out. Cheetahs also struggle to reproduce in new environments, which is another reason why cheetah populations are decreasing.
9. Canadian Caribou
All species of Canadian caribou, also known as reindeer, are endangered in North America. Currently, deforestation is decreasing the caribou's territory. The forests where caribou live are, unfortunately, prime real estate for oil and gas drilling. The good news is populations of Canadian caribou are slowly increasing across the country because the Canadian federal government has implemented habitat protections for caribou species.
10. Asian Elephants
Asian elephants have four subspecies across the continent, all of which are facing different threats. Generally, habitat fragmentation has endangered Asian elephants, which means parts of a habitat are destroyed. This leaves disconnected sections of the area behind—think of a highway crossing through a nature reserve. According to the WWF, habitat fragmentation causes herds of elephants to lose each other, so smaller groups become vulnerable to poachers and climate change.
How to Help the Animals
Saving the planet and all its beautiful creatures isn't easy. Aside from living sustainably and working to reduce your carbon footprint, there are a few things you can do to help, too.
1. Vote With the Animals in Mind
You can vote with animals and the environment in mind. You can even put pressure on local politicians to support wildlife protections in legislation.
2. Adopt an Animal
Some organizations let you symbolically adopt an endangered species so you can change an animal's life. Simply pick any species you'd like and make a donation through WWF or another trusted animal conservation organization. Symbolic adoptions can provide protections for animals in the wild, and when you adopt, you'll receive a certificate.
3. Travel Sustainably
Travel sustainably, especially when visiting the areas endangered animals live. Avoid littering, support animal conservation, and educate yourself about the area.