AboutZoos, Since 2008


Hot dogs – is cli­mate change impact­ing pop­u­la­tions of African wild dogs?

pub­lished 30 July 2017 | mod­i­fied 30 July 2017

Cli­mate change may be harm­ing the future of African wild dogs by impact­ing the sur­vival rates of pups, accord­ing to one of the first stud­ies on how shift­ing tem­per­a­tures are impact­ing trop­i­cal species.

African wild dog pups in ZimbabwePair of African wild dog pups from the Zim­babwe study site.
Credit: Rose­mary Groom, ZSL.

Led by sci­en­tists from the Zoo­log­i­cal Soci­ety of Lon­don (ZSL) and pub­lished on 19 July in the Jour­nal of Ani­mal Ecol­ogy, the study high­lights how African wild dogs — already clas­si­fied as Endan­gered by the IUCN Red List of Threat­ened Species — raise fewer pups at high temperatures.

Three con­cur­rent stud­ies, under­taken by ZSL, the Botswana Preda­tor Con­ser­va­tion Trust, and the African Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Fund, mon­i­tored a total of 73 wild dog packs at sites in Kenya, Botswana and Zim­babwe, over a com­bined 42 years of study.

Track­ing with high-​tech col­lars showed that wild dog packs spent less time hunt­ing on hot days. When packs tried to raise pups in hot weather, more of the pups died, poten­tially because they received less food from indi­vid­u­als return­ing from hunts.

At the Botswana site, tem­per­a­tures increased steadily over 24 years of mon­i­tor­ing. The aver­age daily max­i­mum tem­per­a­ture dur­ing the pup-​rearing period was roughly 1°C lower in the first 12 years of mon­i­tor­ing than in the sec­ond 12 years, and over the same period the aver­age num­ber of pups sur­viv­ing per pack per year fell from five to three.

Our study shows the truly global impact of cli­mate change. When most peo­ple think about wildlife in a chang­ing cli­mate, they think of polar bears cling­ing to melt­ing ice, but even species who have adapted to trop­i­cal weather are being impacted by the changes to their environment.

Pro­fes­sor Rosie Woodroffe, lead author, ZSL’s Insti­tute of Zoology

Wor­ry­ingly, this new threat may be affect­ing wild dogs deep inside wildlife areas where we would expect them to be pro­tected from human impacts. With habi­tat frag­mented and destroyed in cooler areas, wild dogs have lit­er­ally nowhere to go. Sadly, cli­mate change may bring extinc­tion a step closer for this amaz­ing species.

Now our team at ZSL is focused on iden­ti­fy­ing con­ser­va­tion actions which might reduce these cli­mate impacts on wild dogs, and work­ing out where they are most needed.”

African wild dog con­ser­va­tion sta­tus
African wild dogs (Lycaon pic­tus) are one of the world’s most endan­gered car­ni­vores and their pop­u­la­tions are in decline, with esti­mates sug­gest­ing that fewer than 700 packs cur­rently remain in the wild. Although con­sid­ered one of the most suc­cess­ful preda­tors on Earth due to the high kill-​rate their coop­er­a­tive hunt­ing achieves, African wild dog pop­u­la­tions are declin­ing due to pres­sures includ­ing habi­tat loss and human-​wildlife conflict.

Build­ing on this study’s find­ings, ZSL is con­duct­ing fur­ther research to explore whether and how cli­mate change impacts on wild dogs might be mit­i­gated. Find out more about ZSL’s con­ser­va­tion efforts for African wild dogs at Kenya Range­lands Wild Dog and Chee­tah project.

(Source: British Eco­log­i­cal Soci­ety press release, 20.07.2017)

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