The Impact of Climate Change on Wild Tigers

Climate change is currently at the forefront of all our minds, and we are all aware of the current and future ramifications facing us. The average temperature of the Earth is 1 degree Celsius hotter than in the late 1880s and scientists are predicting it to hit 1.5 degrees between 2025 and 2030. Moreover, the past 20 years make up an overwhelming majority of the hottest on record, which puts enormous strain on the environment. If this continues, every habitat, animal and human is at risk, none more so than the tiger. Many think that poaching is the biggest threat to the wild tiger population, but actually the destruction and fragmentation of its natural habitat, greatly influenced by climate change, is the most significant factor. It has a huge effect on the forests through drought and fires which shrinks habitat and inevitably leads to human-wildlife and tiger-tiger conflict. So far, 2021 has been a particularly challenging year as the Bandhavgarh region has suffered from these very problems.

Droughts and Fires

Forest fires glowing at night as trees in the Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve burn intensely
Forest Fires are becoming more frequent in Bandhavgarh

Droughts and fires can often be effectively managed naturally through the annual monsoon rainfall, usually occurring for prolonged periods during the hottest months of the year. However, this has not been the case recently. Later, shorter and more erratic rainfall has hit the region in recent years, leaving it more susceptible to drought and forest fires. As a result, droughts become longer and forest fires much harder to tackle.

The long droughts have meant that large swathes of vegetation have died and access to water has become much harder. Animals can become susceptible to the heat as the forest’s natural shade disappears. The longer these droughts continue, the drier the forest becomes, and the likelihood of deadly forest fires increase with it. Bandhavgarh was hit by a huge forest fire around Easter time, which caused significant devastation. It engulfed between a third and half of pristine tiger habitat. Whilst 35000 other animals were also affected, being either killed, injured, or displaced by the fires. This has jeopardised the whole natural regeneration of the forest as small animals like birds, insects, and reptiles play a huge role in maintaining the forest through seed dispersal and pollination. Moreover, the severity of the fire may have resulted in vegetation struggling to recover and regrow naturally. Such is the destruction from these events, secondary effects like ‘conflict’ quickly arise to cause further harm to the tiger population.

 A Shrinking Habitat and Rising Conflict

A wild Royal Bengal Tiger takes down a domestic cow a common cause of Human-Wildlife Conflict
A wild Royal Bengal Tiger takes down a domestic cow a common cause of Human-Wildlife Conflict. Image Copyright Krishna.

The result of these events, once over, is a greatly depleted area of habitat to live in with no food or water readily available. As both the tigers and prey animals struggle to survive, they often move out of their natural habitat and into human settlements nearby. As prey animals move into these areas to graze on crops, the tigers follow them, and the human-wildlife conflict begins. Traps are set in retaliation to deter the animals from entering villages and fields. As the problem persists, livestock are taken by tigers and other predators, leading to retaliatory poisonings, as a ‘cure’ for the problem. Tiger-tiger conflict also increases as their habitat shrinks and prey is scarce. Tigers are territorial animals and so when habitats shrink so do their territories, resulting in fierce conflict. This problem can be alleviated through mitigation techniques like our waterhole projects. By ensuring the tigers and their prey have permanent water resources, the balance of the ecosystem can be restored, thus reducing the risk of conflict and giving the wild tigers a better chance of survival.

Our Response

A wild tigress and her cubs enjoy the cooling effects of a Tigers4Ever waterhole in Bandhavgarh National Park
A wild tigress and her cubs enjoy the cooling effects of a Tigers4Ever waterhole in Bandhavgarh National Park

As stated above, being able to provide year-round wildlife water resources reduces conflict and increases wild tiger survival. Our solar-powered waterholes have been successful in doing exactly that for more than 32 wild tigers. We have provided sustainable, environmentally friendly water resources in 8 locations for over 32 tigers and countless other wildlife including wild elephants. With year-round water resources, wild tigers and their prey are encouraged to stay within their natural habitat thus reducing human-wildlife and tiger-tiger conflict.

Recent events including flash flooding and the COVID-19 situation within India have hampered progress with our latest waterhole project (see our recent report: https://tigers4ever.org/early-monsoon-and-climate-change/). We have also encountered damage to our solar water-pumps by wild elephant herds during the COVID-19 crisis. To overcome this problem in future, we’re investigating environmentally friendly elephant deterrents including: chilli fencing, lemon grasses and bee-hive fencing. These solutions can also be used by the villagers to reduce wild animal crop raiding and damage.

In the longer term, we want to implement some larger scale solutions in addition to more waterholes, such as reforestation projects. We also plan to plant saplings around future waterholes especially where recent forest fires have decimated the surrounding habitat. Forests and jungles are ‘carbon sinks’ as they are crucial for collecting CO2 in the atmosphere. Not only will our future projects maintain and grow wildlife habitat, they will also help tackle climate change. Finally, we would look to partner other NGOs in establishing wildlife corridors to help reconnect Bandhavgarh with other isolated tiger habitats. This will enable young male tigers to disperse safely and freely between different forested areas in search of new territory and a mate whilst continuing to reduce human-wildlife conflict. Our work is solely reliant on your donations and any amount is greatly appreciated. Trying to offset the effects of climate change on wild tigers is a huge challenge, but one we are prepared to fight for! Let’s continue to give wild tigers a wild future, together! https://tigers4ever.org/donate/

Discover more about our wildlife waterhole project here: Tigers4Ever Waterhole Project

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