(TMU) — Nearly half a billion animals are feared to have died as historic bushfires continue to devastate vast regions of Australia, including almost a third of koalas in their main habitat in New South Wales (NSW).
According to one report from the the Sunday Times, ecologists from the University of Sydney estimate that roughly 480 million mammals, birds, and reptiles have been killed either directly or indirectly by the horrific inferno that has been sweeping across the country since September.
The number includes about 8,000 koalas that were burnt to death along the mid-north coast of the state, which lies 240 miles north of Sydney.
On Friday, federal environment minister Sussan Ley told ABC radio that up to 30 percent of the koalas in the region had been killed, a number equivalent with the amount of their habitat that had been consumed by the fires. So far, about 12.35 million acres (five million hectares) has burned throughout the crisis. The official noted that she’s been hard at work trying to establish corridors and plans to release hospitalized animals. She added:
“We’ll know more when the fires are calmed down and a proper assessment can be made.”
While numerous scientists have sought to debunk earlier suggestions that koalas have been rendered “functionally extinct” as sensationalistic and exaggerated, the species is still faced with a grave threat by the unprecedented fires stoked by strong winds and a brutal heatwave.
Earlier in December, ecologist Mark Graham of the Nature Conservation Council told a state parliamentary inquiry that koalas typically “really have no capacity to move fast enough to get away” from the massive and fast-moving crown fires that spread across treetops. He added:
“The fires have burned so hot and so fast that there has been significant mortality of animals in the trees, but there is such a big area now that is still on fire and still burning that we will probably never find the bodies.”
We’ve lost such a massive swathe of known koala habitat that I think we can say without any doubt there will be ongoing declines in koala populations from this point forward.”
Over 100 fires are currently raging across Australia, with volunteer firefighters joining efforts to minimize damage and rescue the beloved koalas. On December 19, two volunteer firefighters were killed as they battled the blazes in NSW. Nine people have died in total, with one person missing and 800 homes destroyed.
“I get mail from all around the world from people absolutely moved and amazed by, number one, our wildlife volunteer response, and also by the habits of these curious creatures.”
While working overnight, firefighters came across a mother koala with her bub while working along Bells Line of Road….
Regions devastated by the fires include the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area and portions of the Gondwana rainforests, the most extensive subtropical rainforest in the world which has existed since the time of dinosaurs.
Meanwhile, the dedicated staff at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital spent Christmas Day tending 72 wounded and badly burnt koalas.
On the political front, the Australian government headed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison has faced withering criticism for taking his pre-Christmas vacation in Hawaii while the country confronts this massive emergency, resulting in the trending hashtag #WhereTheBloodyHellAreYou.
The country is heavily reliant on coal power and the government has been accused of avoiding taking action on climate change, obstructing global summits on climate change, and even skirting its obligations under the 2015 Paris accord.
Along with the fires, arid conditions due to a prolonged drought have wrought heavy damage on the livelihoods of farmers and local economies.
Dolphin Swims Through Louisiana Neighborhood in Aftermath of Hurricane Ida
A Louisiana family was shocked to find a dolphin swimming through their neighborhood in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida.
Amanda Huling and her family were assessing the damage to their neighborhood in Slidell, Louisiana, when they noticed the dolphin swimming through the inundated suburban landscape.
In video shot by Huling, the marine mammal’s dorsal fin can be seen emerging from the water.
“The dolphin was still there as of last night but I am in contact with an organization who is going to be rescuing it within the next few days if it is still there,” Huling told FOX 35.
Ida slammed into the coast of Louisiana this past weekend. The Category 4 hurricane ravaged the power grid of the region, plunging residents of New Orleans and upwards of 1 million homes and businesses in Louisiana and Mississippi into the dark for an indefinite period of time.
Officials have warned that the damage has been so extensive that it could take weeks to repair the power grid, reports Associated Press.
Also in Slidell, a 71-year-old man was attacked by an alligator over the weekend while he was in his flooded shed. The man went missing and is assumed dead, reports WDSU.
Internet users began growing weary last year about the steady stream of stories belonging to a “nature is healing” genre, as people stayed indoors and stories emerged about animals taking back their environs be it in the sea or in our suburbs.
However, these latest events are the surreal realities of a world in which extreme weather events are fast becoming the new normal – disrupting our lives in sometimes predictable, and occasionally shocking and surreal, ways.
Mom in LA Suburbs Fights Off Mountain Lion With Bare Hands, Rescues 5-Year-Old Son
A mother in Southern California is being hailed as a hero after rescuing her five-year-old son from an attacking mountain lion.
The little boy was playing outside his home in Calabasas, a city lying west of Los Angeles in the Santa Monica Mountains, when the large cat pounced on him.
The 65-pound (30 kg) mountain lion dragged the boy about 45 yards across the front lawn before the mother acted fast, running out and striking the creature with her bare hands and forcing it to free her son.
“The true hero of this story is his mom because she absolutely saved her son’s life,” California Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Captain Patrick Foy told Associated Press on Saturday.
“She ran out of the house and started punching and striking the mountain lion with her bare hands and got him off her son,” Foy added.
The boy sustained significant injuries to his head, neck and upper torso, but is now in stable condition at a hospital in Los Angeles, according to authorities.
The mountain lion was later located and killed by an officer with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, who found the big cat crouching in the bushes with its “ears back and hissing” at the officer shortly after he arrived at the property.
“Due to its behavior and proximity to the attack, the warden believed it was likely the attacking lion and to protect public safety shot and killed it on sight,” the wildlife department noted in its statement.
The mountain lion attack is the first such attack on a human in Los Angeles County since 1995, according to Fish and Wildlife.
The Santa Monica Mountains is a biodiverse region teeming with wildlife such as large raptors, mountain lions, bears, coyote, deer, lizards, and snakes. However, their numbers have rapidly faded in recent years, causing local wildlife authorities to find new ways to manage the region’s endemic species.
Blue Whales Return to Spain’s Coast After Disappearing for 40 Years
Blue whales have been returning to the Atlantic coast of Spain after an absence of over 40 years in the region, when whaling industries drove the species to the brink of extinction.
Blue whales, which are the world’s largest mammals, had long disappeared from the region until the recent sightings.
The first was spotted off the coast of Galicia near Ons Island by marine biologist Bruno Díaz, who heads the Bottlenose Dolphin Research.
Another one of the majestic creatures was spotted the following year in 2018 and yet another in 2019. In 2020, two whales again made their return to the area.
It remains unclear as of yet as to why the creatures have returned to the area, but controls on local whaling industries are believed to play a role.
“I believe the moratorium on whaling has been a key factor,” Díaz remarked, according to the Guardian. “In the 1970s, just before the ban was introduced, an entire generation of blue whales disappeared. Now, more than 40 years later, we’re seeing the return of the descendants of the few that survived.”
Whaling had been a traditional industry in Galicia for hundreds of years before Spain finally acted to ban whaling in 1986, long after the blue whale’s presence in the region had faded away.
Some fear that the return of the massive sea mammals is a sign of global warming.
“I’m pessimistic because there’s a high possibility that climate change is having a major impact on the blue whale’s habitat,” said marine biologist Alfredo López in comments to La Voz de Galicia.
“Firstly, because they never venture south of the equator, and if global warming pushes this line north, their habitat will be reduced,” he continued “And secondly, if it means the food they normally eat is disappearing, then what we’re seeing is dramatic and not something to celebrate.”
Díaz said that while the data certainly supports this theory, it is too early to determine climate as the precise cause.
“It is true that the data we have points to this trend [climate change] but it is not enough yet,” he told Público news.
Another possibility is that the ancestral memory of the old creatures or even a longing for their home may offer an explanation, according to Díaz.
“In recent years it’s been discovered that the blue whale’s migration is driven by memory, not by environmental conditions,” he said. “This year there hasn’t been a notable increase in plankton, but here they are. Experiences are retained in the collective memory and drive the species to return.”
In recent years, researchers have found that migratory patterns are also driven by the cultural knowledge existing in many groups of species.
Researchers believe this type of folk memory, or cultural knowledge, exists in many species and is key to their survival.
A typical blue whale is 20-24 metres long and weighs 120 tonnes – equivalent to 16 elephants – but specimens of up to 30 metres and 170 tonnes have been found.