By Painted Wolf Foundation - June 8, 2021

It’s not just getting a bit warmer…

Researchers from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) have shown that rising temperatures from climate change and human pressures interact in ways that affect painted wolf mortality. They have recently published their work in the scientific journal Ecology and Evolution.

Many studies have documented the dangers of global warming for humans and domestic animals. There is much less research on how wild animal death rates might be affected by rising temperatures. Mass die-off events in wild animals often occur in extreme weather events such as heat waves. But the effects of increasing average daily temperatures are not well studied. 

Researchers from ZSL worked with the African Wildlife Conservation Fund and the Botswana Predator Conservation Trust to analyze painted wolf mortality in their study areas. What they have found is that rising ambient temperature appears to reflect an increase in painted wolf deaths. Where there was high human impact, higher temperatures were associated with greater risk of death from humans or disease from their domestic dogs.

Painted wolf pup mortality goes up with higher temperatures. This study shows that death in painted wolf adults can also be influenced by higher ambient temperatures. Higher temperatures affect painted wolf behavior.  As the days stay hotter longer, painted wolves have to shift the timing of their hunts to avoid the heat of the day. This puts them more at risk from larger predators (such as lions and hyenas) that also hunt at night.

However rising temperatures change human behavior as well. In hot and dry weather, pastoralists are more likely to move their livestock further from their homes in search of grazing. This increases the overlap between people, along with their domestic dogs, and painted wolves. The likelihood of human wildlife conflict and disease transmission from domestic dogs then rises.

The findings of this research suggest that increasing temperatures may exacerbate the threats painted wolves already face, particularly threats that are due to humans. As the climate warms, it is important to understand this relationship to be able to develop effective conservation strategies.