Climate change & conservation

5 November 2021


Global warming has an acute impact on wild animals so, with your support, Born Free is devoted to effective climate action. 

This Sunday 7 November at the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow, Born Free is hosting a ‘State of the Earth’ Question Time as part of the Cabinet Office Green Zone event (

The devastating potential effects of climate change over the coming decades are starting to become more clearly understood. Earlier predictions are starting to play out across the globe, and scientists are now gathering huge datasets to model future predictions. It cannot be ignored. What’s clear is that, unless strong climate action is taken the impacts could be terrifying. 

If our Earth’s global average temperature rises 2 or 3°C over the next few decades, developing countries will bear the brunt of the impacts. As it is these same countries and regions of the world where biodiversity is richest and where already endangered species roam, climate change will most certainly pose a huge challenge to wildlife conservation over coming years. 

The fundamentals of wildlife conservation are community engagement and empowerment. Preserving nature is preserving rural people’s ways of life, and their stewardship of surrounding natural resources is key to true coexistence and long-term protection. Similarly, the greatest impact that climate change could have on the success of conservation and education work will be via the impacts felt by communities. These impacts could introduce additional barriers, reduce standards of living and opportunities available and make communities less able to embrace conservation. 

Though unpredictable to some degree — with varying effects at different scales — the major likely manifestations of climate change are well described. In some parts of the world, temperatures are likely to increase and for longer periods. There will become times of the year when it’s simply too hot to be outside. Considering that rural lives in, say, Central India, revolve around farming, keeping livestock and gathering natural produce, this can mean people are forced to struggle under dangerous heat, or risk losing their livelihoods. 

Domestic animals will also not be able to survive outside once temperatures get too high, thus removing this livelihood option from some parts of the world, and plunging people into hardship and famine. In other parts of the world, for example Kenya, more frequent and prolonged periods of drought might be a greater problem. When the rains do not come, communities will be faced with water shortages for longer periods than ever before. This will result in a real struggle for people and will also mean that crops and livestock might die. 

Such challenges faced by communities can lead to more hunting of wild animals, and other uncontrolled and unsustainable uses of natural resources as people struggle to get by. People will not be in a position to embrace conservation, will not have the luxury of thinking long term, as they are forced to battle day-to-day to get themselves and their families through these harsh periods.

Where there is heightened competition for resources, like water, wildlife may struggle to access sufficient amounts for their needs, and this can lead to animal deaths. It is also likely to increase conflict, as people and wildlife alike struggle to meet their needs and are pushed into closer and more frequent contact as a result – crops might be foraged on more than usual, for example. Also, the wildlife species we are trying to protect will be directly affected by dangerous high temperatures, lack of food because of die-off or shifting of vegetation, or because of lower abundances of prey species. All life will be forced to face these struggles in the worse afflicted areas. 

But as you know, at Born Free we always focus on conservation optimism and on practical, realistic answers to problems. We will not sit around and watch this unfold. With your remarkable support, there are always solutions available to help us mitigate and adapt. Interventions that enable and empower local people to protect and restore natural resources is direct climate action. 

For example, Born Free already supports tree planting by Bulindi Chimpanzee & Community Project in Uganda, as well as maintaining and restoring the guassa grasslands in Ethiopia. We help prevent illegal harvesting from national parks in Lamandau (Borneo), Kahuzi-Biega (DR Congo). Born Free is carrying out some work on water conservation in Meru, Kenya and planning to introduce alternative sustainable livelihoods that can replace drought-intolerant crops to help reduce economic stresses later on, via beehive fencing and honey production.

However, as impacts become more intense, conservationists worldwide need to step up. Born Free will carry out an in-depth analysis to understand the likely projected impacts of climate change on the wildlife populations and habitats we strive to protect and on the standards of living, ways of life and security of the communities living in our target areas. 

Such a thorough analysis will guide us to pro-actively adapt our conservation interventions to address these likely impacts of climate change next year and beyond. We will be able to make informed decisions and to support communities to prevent or minimise the new or increasing climate change related challenges that could be detrimental to their ways of life. To do so will enable us to future-proof our conservation efforts and ensure persistence of wonderful wildlife living in globally important ecosystems.

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