Several animal species including gorillas in Rwanda and tigers in Bangladesh could risk extinction if the impact of climate change and extreme weather on their habitats is not addressed, a UN report showed today.
Launched on the sidelines of global climate negotiations in Durban, the report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) shows how higher temperatures, the rise in sea levels, deforestation and excessive land use have damaged the habitats of certain species, especially in Africa.
“Many ecosystems have already been stressed by increasing population, historical and recent deforestation, unsustainable management practices and even invasive species,” Eduardo Rojas-Briales, assistant director general at the FAO’s forestry department, said at the launch of the report.
The most affected areas include mountains, isolated islands and coastal areas, which limit the possibilities for animals to migrate elsewhere and create new habitats.
“The remaining populations become enclosed in very small ecosystems, they have inbreeding problems … and at the end these species may disappear,” he added.
Wildlife migration may also lead to conflicts with humans as happened with the tigers in Bangladesh, Rojas-Briales said.
“Lifestock and even humans were attacked and of course there was retaliation by the local population, and the success that was achieved by protecting this species is now being reversed by habitat degradation,” he said.
Other examples of affected animals included elephants in Mali, lions in the Serengeti and crocodiles in Malawi.
The report said an estimated 20-30 percent of plant and animal species will be at higher risk of extinction due to global warming and a significant proportion of endemic species may become extinct by 2050 as a consequence.
Other consequences could include the spread of invasive species and infectious diseases, it said.
The report urges more focus on restoration of damaged ecosystems, especially those key to tackling climate change such as mangroves, inland waters, forests, savannahs and grasslands.
The FAO also called for the creation of migration corridors for animals in areas where their movement was constrained.
The organisation said while more resources were flowing to biodiversity conservation, more action at the government and policy level was needed.
It also urged local communities to develop projects that mitigate the impact of climate change on wildlife, naming eco-tourism activities as an example.