By utilizing historical records, scientists have demonstrated that climate change may have a very devastating effect on Myanmar’s already endangered elephants. In fact, elephants are far less resilient than popularly thought and even the slightest temperature change may wipe them out.
University of Sheffield scientist, Hannah Mumby, the study lead, determined that Myanmar’s elephants thrive at an optimum temperature of 23 degrees Celsius but the region is expected to have a rise from 0.1 to 3 ̊Celsius within the next 30 to 40 years. While this seems like a fairly insignificant change in temperature, elephants are extremely sensitive to temperature and even a seemingly small rise may drive the entire Myanmar elephant population to extinction.
Mumby discovered that the elephant calves are most affected by temperature extremes. In fact, experiencing these extremes doubles their mortality risk.
If Myanmar’s elephants are to be pulled back from the brink of extinction, the calves must be protected. Once they reach maturity, the youngest elephants are critical progenitors who have the ability to continue the species by producing offspring. However, if the calves die before they reach maturity and can mate, the species is almost assuredly headed toward extinction.
Climate change is not only affecting Myanmar’s temperatures but is also responsible for fewer monsoon months each year. These months are critical since the rainfall produces important drinkable water for the elephants and keeps the temperatures down.
Scientists are hoping the study will not only save Myanmar’s elephants from extinction but will also yield valuable information about how humans will react to changing climates and rising temperatures. Humans and elephants are, after all, quite similar and have nearly identical lifespans.
Leigh is a Senior Technical Writer at Ambit Energy in Dallas, Texas. Prior to her work in the energy sector, Leigh spent years specializing in life saving engineering projects for the US Department of Defense. In her spare time, Leigh pursues her passions of environmental awareness, dog rescue, and defending the place of art, literature, and music in a world that values science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.