Study finds aardvarks suffering as African climate heats up

  • Jul. 31, 2017 4:30 a.m.

Little is known about Africa’s elusive aardvarks, but new research says they are vulnerable to climate change like many other species.

Hotter temperatures are taking their toll on the aardvark, whose diet of ants and termites is becoming scarcer in some areas because of reduced rainfall, according to a study released Monday.

Drought in the Kalahari desert killed five out of six aardvarks that were being monitored for a year, as well as 11 others in the area, said researchers at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

The aardvarks’ body temperatures plummeted during the night because they were not getting enough energy from diminished food sources, said physiology professor Andrea Fuller. She said they tried to conserve energy by looking for insects during the warmer daytime, but their efforts to adapt could not save them.

The body temperatures of the ones that died had dropped to as low as 25 degrees Celsius (77 Fahrenheit), compared to a normal temperature of a little below 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit).

Researchers, who monitored the aardvarks with tiny sensors attached to implanted computer chips, said some birds, reptiles and other animals use aardvark burrows to escape extreme temperatures, reproduce and hide from predators. They could have fewer refuges available if aardvark populations shrink because of rising temperatures, they said.

The aardvark, which lives in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, is identified as an animal of “least concern” on an international “red list” of threatened species. The list, compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, said there are no indications that the population is changing significantly in southern Africa, though it speculated that numbers may be declining elsewhere because of habitat destruction, the bushmeat trade and other factors.

Estimating aardvark populations is guesswork, Fuller said.

“Very little is known about them because people hardly ever see them,” she said.

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