Climate Change

Polar Bear Photo
WCS is developing wildlife disease management strategies to minimize the impacts of global climate change on the health of polar bears and other wildlife.
Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

Shifts in global temperature and precipitation levels, driven by climate change, could welcome some bacteria, parasites, fungi, and viruses into previously inhospitable regions, possibly infecting new species in new ways. Changes in climate can cue wildlife to breed at different times or migrate to different places. Altered distributions of wildlife and livestock, as well as possible reductions in water availability, may bring livestock and wild animals into closer contact. All of these possible outcomes of global climate change might affect a species’ survival or that of other species with which they come into new contact.


A number of pathogens associated with wildlife could change their distributions and/or severity in response to climate change, including what WCS pathologists have dubbed “The Deadly Dozen”: avian influenza, babesia, cholera, Ebola, intestinal and external parasites, plague, Lyme disease, algal red tides, Rift Valley fever, sleeping sickness, tuberculosis, and yellow fever.

Whether they are moving in human-to-animal, animal-to-human, animal-to-animal directions, or in all three directions, further spread of these conditions jeopardizes the health of the world’s wildlife and human communities and economies.


  • Forge alliances among conservationists, communities, governments, and health agencies
  • Train local personnel to collect biological samples and conduct animal and human health surveys
  • Develop wildlife disease management strategies to minimize the impacts of global climate change on wildlife health

What WCS is Doing

WCS field veterinarians are establishing communication networks, guiding local preventive healthcare programs, and monitoring for wildlife diseases and migrations all over the world. They also help conduct IUCN initiatives, such as the Southern African Sustainable Use Specialist Group. This workshop was held in Cape Town, South Africa to develop a strategic action plan to anticipate the challenges that conservation and health efforts in southern Africa will face in an era of climate change.

From the Newsroom

Climate Change: Prime Time for ParasitesSeptember 28, 2010

WCS scientists link rising temperatures and rainfall levels to a growing parasite problem for nestling birds in South America.

Penguins Are Marching into TroubleFebruary 13, 2009

A quarter-century of data reveals how changing weather patterns and land use, combined with overfishing and pollution, are taking a heavy toll on penguin numbers.

Landlocked Polar Bear Forces Evacuation of WCS ScientistAugust 7, 2008

WCS evacuated five of its scientists from a remote camp in northern Alaska because of a new and unusual threat: a polar bear stuck on land due to climate change.

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Wildlife Health