The Impact of Human-Caused Climate Change on Wildlife

Amol Ashok Sahasrabudhe

April 11, 2023

Amol Ashok Sahasrabudhe

Climate change has already begun to harm wildlife in many ways. These include changing weather patterns, which affect the timing of life cycle events such as mating, blooming, and migration; rising temperatures; and a drying up of rivers and lakes that are vital sources of food, water, and habitat.

Animals are struggling to adapt, putting them at risk of extinction. They also face human-induced stressors such as pollution, invasive species, and habitat loss.

Polar Bears

Polar bears depend on sea ice to hunt seals, and as the ice melts due to climate change, this will cause them to lose their habitat. This will lead to population isolation and, eventually, the extinction of the species.

Researchers found that a small, genetically distinct group of polar bears in Southeast Greenland use ice melanges—a mix of glacier and sea ice carved off marine-terminating glaciers—to survive during poor ice years.

This strategy may help them survive in a warming world but it is only a temporary solution. The Arctic is not expected to have enough glacier ice to sustain the bear population for much longer, and most bears in this area are already struggling.

Great White Sharks

Human-caused climate change greatly impacts wildlife, including great white sharks. This is because the oceans are warming at a rapid rate. This also affects the habitats these animals use, which can lead to severe problems for the marine ecosystems and animals that live in them.

When a marine heat wave hit the California coast in 2014, aquarium scientists began noticing that juvenile great white sharks were spotted farther north than ever before. This is because the sharks are looking for warmer water more suited to their body temperature.

According to the study recently published in Scientific Reports, these sharks are shifting north because they need a more suitable thermal habitat. This is bad news for other wildlife, including sea otters, which are currently experiencing a decline in their population due to the sharks’ increased presence.

Blue Whales

After years of whaling, human-caused climate change, and an encroaching tourism industry, blue whales are now one of the most endangered marine animals on the planet. Their natural habitat is threatened by various human activities, including noise pollution and vessel strikes.

New Zealand researchers analyzed data on blue whales in the South Taranaki Bight to see how changing ocean conditions affected their behavior. The research found that during warm and typical ocean conditions, blue whales were more likely to feed in areas where the water was cooler – this indicates deep, nutrient-rich water that was pushed toward the surface in an upwelling process.


Climate change, primarily caused by burning fossil fuels like coal and oil, can have a huge impact on wildlife. It can cause several effects, from changing temperatures and weather patterns to reducing food supply and causing habitat loss.

For giraffes, one of the most impactful impacts is that they are highly sensitive to shifts in seasonal weather and food availability. Their diet changes yearly depending on the weather, and they eat shrubs, vines, and deciduous trees (leaves that wilt and shed each year).

A recent study reveals that human-caused climate change may affect the giraffe population structure in Tanzania. Researchers analyzed social networks among 540 wild Masai giraffes and found that the closer the giraffes lived to traditional compounds of indigenous Masai people, the smaller their home ranges were.

African Elephants

Climate change is causing droughts in much of Africa to become longer and more severe, affecting elephant habitats. This is putting an already-thinnest population of African elephants at risk.

Forest elephants are the smallest of the three elephant species and have a critical role in helping tropical forests store carbon. Their feeding habits, which include pushing over trees and peeling off their bark, make room for more grassy vegetation and help spread seeds embedded in their dung, which promotes the growth of larger trees that can absorb more carbon.

Scientists have found that if forest elephants were to disappear, it could mean 7% of the biomass in African forests would disappear – a staggering 3 billion tonnes of carbon lost. This figure, says ecologist Fabio Berzaghi from the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences in France, is “a very high contribution of wildlife to the capacity of forests to store carbon.”