Climate change impact on the Population of Elephants in East Africa

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The purpose of this study is to determine how the population of elephants in East Africa is being impacted by climate change. Elephants have been shown to thrive in their natural habitat, thus research was done to determine how climate change impacts the elephants' environment and how it affects their population. The study focused on a number of facets of an elephant's existence. The researcher went through the literature on the life of an elephant, including its habitat in the wild, ideal circumstances for survival, reproduction, and the climate in East Africa. Literature on the different species of elephants habiting in the region was reviewed and and how the climatic conditions affect them. From the literature reviewed on all the subjects concerning elephants, the researcher was able to draw conclusions on whether climate change has any adverse effects on the population of elephants in East Africa.

Keywords: elephants, climate change, species

Impacts of Climate Change on the population of elephants in East Africa


International tourism is a main foreign currency generator for most sub-Saharan countries that have both wildlife and the suitable infrastructure to support tourism. Although most East African countries depend on wildlife for generation of revenue, little research has been accomplished in the determination of the impacts of climate change on their populations and survival (Whyte, 1988). Amongst ‘the big five’ is the elephant. The powerful appeal of this animal is demonstrated in the scores of African wildlife documentaries on television and the constant public support for zoos, sanctuaries, and orphanages featuring African elephants.

Elephants already face the threat of complete extinction and it is likely to be made worse by climate change (Case, 2006). For the past two decades, climate change has been on the international agenda. Together with drought, rampant soil erosion and degradation and bio diversity loss, it has become a broadly recognized as one of the major environmental threats that the world is facing (IPCC, 2001). There is a concrete proof that global warming and other climate-related changes are happening more rapidly than anticipated, and the climatic prognosis is becoming worse. Although climate change has already been observed and monitored over several years, few long-term studies have been conducted to prove how the phenomena affects the population of elephants in East Africa. This study examines the likely ecosystem and landscape changes that occur in forests, grasslands, coastal areas and mountains. Impacts include changes in weather patterns, physical conditions and how the ecosystem functions.

Statement of the problem

The African elephant (Loxodonta Africana) has the ability to survive in a range of habitats. This species is exposed to broad climate variability and can feed on a number of different foods (Funk, 2005)

The African elephant is the largest land animal. Their herds wander through most of the countries in Africa. Elephants’ natural habitat is the forest. Their survival depends on the availability of natural resources such as water, vegetation, and a diverse ecosystem. Among many other factors that affect their reproduction and population is climate change. Climate change has the potential to severely affect the population of this animal.

This study, therefore, is meant to establish the impact that climate change has on the population of elephants in East Africa (Case, 2006). By discussing and reviewing the literature on the life of elephants and the climate in East Africa, the researcher will be able to determine if indeed climate change has any impact on the population of elephants.

Purpose of the research

Elephants need an ecosystem that has sufficient vegetation and fresh water for their survival and maintenance of a steady population (Funk, 2005). This research project was therefore undertaken to determine the impact on the population of elephants. It is meant to find out how different climate and different conditions affect the population.

Objectives Of The Study

The research was guided by the following objectives:

(i) To examine the natural habitat of the African elephant

(ii) To explore the impacts of climate change on the population of elephants in East Africa

(iii) To find out the adverse effects caused by climate change and how it affects the population of elephants.

Research Questions

(i) What are the suitable climatic features of an elephant’s habitat?

(ii) How does climate change affect the population of the elephants?

(iii) What are the impacts of climate change on the population of the elephant?


The climate change has a negative impact on the population of elephants. Climate change gives rise to other phenomena such human-wildlife conflicts, droughts, poaching, and migration. This causes a decline in the reproduction of the elephants thus having a direct effect on their population. By studying and reviewing the literature concerning the elephant and effects of climate change, the researcher will come to a conclusion that indeed climate change has a negative impact on the population of elephants in East Africa.

Literature review

Suitable Climatic Conditions For The Habitation Of Elephants

The African elephant can survive in a variety of habitats including desert, swamp, forest and Savannah. It is the largest living land animal and it can spend up to eighteen hours a day. An adult elephant needs approximately 140 kilograms of food a day and can consume up to 200 litres of water a day (Githeko & Ndegwa, 2001). The African elephant needs a huge amount of food and water to thrive. Large herds of elephants can be found only in food rich areas like the Savannah and grasslands. In areas where there is little or no food the elephants often migrate to other habitats where there’s plenty of food to feed their enormous appetites.

How Does Climate Change Affect Population Of Elephants?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), states that climate change induced warming land and sea temperatures are projected to cause more recurrent and extreme hurricanes and tropical storms that flood the coastal areas (IPCC, 2001)

These severe weather events have the potential to decreased rainfall in interior regions thus causing increased droughts and desertification consequently threatening food security. Threats to food security might lead to extensive migration of human settlements to areas with better agricultural land, availability of water resources and flee amplified exposure to diseases. This causes a disruption of the harmony between humans and wildlife. It has the potential to ignite a human-wildlife conflict and thus forcing the elephants to migrate to areas with less human population. This causes a decline in the population of the elephants in the area.

The Impacts Of Climate Change

Climate change significantly alters the African biodiversity as species struggle to adapt to changing climatic conditions (Bernard, 2005). Climate change results in dramatic shifts in the geographical distribution of species and ecosystems and current rates of migration of species are much higher than the rates during post glacial periods (Malcolm, Markham, Neilson & Garaci, 2002).

Species that have the capability to keep up with climate shifts may survive while on the other hand those that cannot respond will most probably suffer. The African elephant, which is a migratory species that uses East Africa as its migratory route may be vulnerable to changes in climate. Climate change has the potential to alter migratory routes of species that use both the seasonal wetlands and track seasonal changes in herbivores. This may also increase conflicts human-wildlife conflicts particularly in areas with a low rainfall (Thirgood et al., 2004)

Land use patterns in East Africa can also prevent wildlife like elephants from changing their migratory routes. Park boundary fences have been known to interrupt migration journeys of the species leading to a population decline (Joubert, 1988)

Negative Impacts of Climate Change

Water availability. Warm sea surface temperatures can lead to an increase of droughts in equatorial and subtropical Eastern Africa (Funk, 2005). As elephants need to feed their huge appetites, these droughts cause a shortage of food and water thus increasing the chances of the elephants dying or migrating to areas with more food and water. This has a direct effect on their population. Less rain during already dry months can lead to droughts and increased desertification (IPCC, 2001)

Food security. The decline in the long cycle crops and rainfall between March and May causes food scarcity. These events might encourage abnormally high amounts of rains in some parts of equatorial East Africa and can result in flooding and decreased agricultural yield or damage to vegetation. This interferes with the ecosystem thereby affecting the population (IPCC, 2001).

Health. Climate change intensifies the occurrence and intensity of disease outbreaks and may increase the spread of diseases in some areas (IPCC, 2001). Rainfall and abnormally high maximum temperatures are correlated with the number of cases of deaths due to diseases on the elephant population (Githeko & Ndegwa, 2001).

Biodiversity. Climate change has the potential to significantly alter African biodiversity as the various species struggle to adapt to the changing conditions. Biome sensitivity assessments in East Africa show deciduous and semi-deciduous closed canopy forests may be very sensitive to a slight decrease to rain during the growing season. This illustrates that deciduous forests may be more sensitive to reduced rainfall than grasslands or savannah (Bernard, 2005).



Based on an extensive literature review that examined information about the natural habitat of elephants, the effects of weather changes and the climatic conditions in East Africa, this research outlines how climate change impacts the population of elephants in East Africa and what kind of climate and the prerequisites for their thriving.

This study establishes that elephants can survive in several habitats but they need plenty of water and food for their survival and a steady population. Failure to achieve this prerequisite, it affects how they live, feed and causes them to migrate to other areas thereby causing a decline in their population.

Several articles, journals, and material from websites were reviewed to obtain the information pertaining to this research. Literature was critically reviewed to enable the researcher to come to a conclusion on the validity of the hypothesis.

Results and Discussion

The initial review of the impact of climate change on the population of elephants in East Africa indicates that there are several key areas of the elephant’s life that are affected by the change of the climate. Chief among this is the need for the species to get a steady supply of water and food for its survival. This research indicates that the African elephant is water dependent and must drink more than a hundred liters of water. It has an enormous water requirement that can be met by large water bodies such as rivers and lakes. These water bodies can only exist if there’s a steady precipitation.

Food is another aspect of the African elephant’s major needs for survival. Elephants are known to consume huge amounts of food daily. There’s a need for a good climate conducive for the growth of vegetation which is a major requirement for the survival of elephants. Elephants are facing a number of threats that have a direct correlation to their populations. Threats such as human-wildlife conflicts have a potential of driving them away from their natural habitat.

The elephant population in East Africa is also affected by some other factors other from climate change. Diseases and illegal poaching have the potential to directly affect their population.


The data obtained from reviewing literature pertaining to the impact of climate change on the population of elephants in East Africa supports the hypothesis that climate change has a negative impact on the population of elephant in East Africa. Climate change causes drought and lack of sufficient rainfall for the growth of vegetation which is vital for the diet of elephants. This, in turn, leads to migration of the elephants to areas with sufficient food and water. Another impact of the drought is lack of rainfall for farming, this causes human-wildlife conflict between the humans and the elephants, thus leading to poaching and killing of the elephants which has a direct effect on their population.


Bernard, J. L. (2005). Climate change and Ecology in Africa. African Journal of Ecology, 43, 279-281.

Case, M. (2006). Climate change impacts on East Africa. WWF-World Wide Fund for Nature, Gland.

Funk, C. (2005). Recent drought tendencies in Ethiopia and Equatorial Subtropical Eastern Africa, USAID

IPCC. (2001). Managing the risks of extreme events and disasters to advance climate change adaptatin: Special Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Whyte, C. S. J. (1988). Blue wildebeest population trends in the Kruger National Park and the effects of fencing. South African Journal of Wildlife Research-24-month delayed open access, 18(3), 78-87.

Malcolm, J. R., Markham, A., Neilson, R. P., & Garaci, M. (2002). Estimated migration rates under scenarios of global climate change. Journal of Biogeography, 29(7), 835-849.

Githeko, A. K., & Ndegwa, W. (2001). Predicting malaria epidemics in the Kenyan highlands using climate data: a tool for decision makers. Global change & human health, 2(1), 54-63.

Thirgood, S., et al., (2004). Can parks protect migratory ungulates? The case of the Serengeti wildebeest. In Animal Conservation forum (Vol. 7, No. 2, pp. 113-120). Cambridge University Press.

April 13, 2023


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Elephant Population Study

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