(TMU) — While Australia’s unprecedented wave of fires has devastated the country, it’s been difficult for experts and authorities to accurately measure the true extent of the damage sustained by the country’s wild animals and plants.
However, new figures released by specialists studying the blaze reveal horrifying new statistics about the number of animals killed in the bushfires, which likely now exceed one billion.
Last week, researchers at the University of Sydney expressed fears that roughly 480 million animals have been killed since the crisis broke out in September.
Ecologist Chris Dickman, who helped arrive at the figure, is now saying that the number was extremely conservative—and only restricted to those animals within the state of New South Wales (NSW). It also excluded huge groups of wildlife about which they lack any population data.
Speaking to Huffington Post, Dickman said:
“The original figure―the 480 million―was based on mammals, birds and reptiles for which we do have densities, and that figure now is a little bit out of date. It’s over 800 million given the extent of the fires now―in New South Wales alone.
If 800 million sounds a lot, it’s not all the animals in the firing line.”
The creatures excluded in the 480 million figure include such animals as bats, frogs, and invertebrates. With those included, Dickman is “without any doubt at all” that losses far exceed 1 billion. He added:
“Over a billion would be a very conservative figure.”
Experts have warned that the massive loss of life due to the fires threatens to cross a tipping-point for entire species of animals and plants on an island continent where 87 percent of wildlife is endemic to the country, meaning it can only be found on Australia. This includes such critically endangered species as the southern corroboree frog and mountain pygmy-possum, whose habitats have been ravaged by the fires.
Dickman added that the country’s huge population of bats are especially susceptible to impacts on their forest habitat. He said:
“The numbers would have to be huge. And they’re very susceptible to the fires.”
Kangaroos, koalas, wallabies, wombats, potoroos, bandicoots, echidnas, and other species also have populations that live in regions currently being devastated by the fires—and because the fires have extended to the wetlands, dry eucalyptus forests, and even rainforests, the animals have no place to find refuge.
Stuart Blanch, a senior manager of Land Clearing and Restoration for WWF-Australia, backs up Dickman’s estimates. The researcher stressed that given the recent massive expansion of fires since the measurements were last taken, 1 billion remains a very modest estimate of the tremendous loss of life.
For Blanch, the blame largely lies with economic factors—including the country’s role as the world’s number one exporter of coal and liquefied natural gas. He said:
“It’s our climate impact and our obsession with coal that is helping wage war on our own country.”
Upwards of 12.35 million acres of land have burned so far, officials claim. Over the weekend, an estimated 25,000 additional koalas burned to death when the fire extended to Kangaroo Island, potentially wiping out entire rare and endangered species.
Transitioning from a global deforestation hotspot to world leader in reforestation would cut Australia's carbon emissions by 9% and store an addition one billion tons of carbon in landscapes. #towardstwobilliontreeshttps://t.co/nhD5zxx8pP https://t.co/FQpvUw95mX
— Stuart Blanch (@blanch_stuart) December 22, 2019
Idaho Senate Approves Bill to Kill 90 Percent of State’s Wolves in “Brutal War”
Idaho’s legislature is swiftly moving forward with a bill that critics say would sanction a “brutal war” on wolves whereby up to 90 percent of the current wolf population would be killed in a bid to protect the interests of the state’s ranchers.
On Wednesday, the Idaho senate passed the measure by a 26-7 vote. The bill will now move forward to the House chamber, reports Associated Press.
Since teetering at the brink of endangerment years ago, wolf populations were removed from the state endangered species list in 2011. Since then, they have thrived despite Idaho allowing hundreds to be killed by hunters, trappers and state measures to control their numbers. Over the past two years, the wolf population has held steady at about 1,500.
According to federal guidelines, wolf recovery numbers require about 150 wolves in the state.
Republican supporters of the bill said during senate debates that the wolf population has grown entirely out of control, endangering the numbers of deer and elk available to hunters and harming the state economy.
“We’re supposed to have 15 packs, 150 wolves. We’re up to 1,553, was the last count, 1,556, something like that. They’re destroying ranchers. They’re destroying wildlife. This is a needed bill,” said Republican state Sen. Mark Harris.
However, critics have blasted the move as rash and potentially damaging to the state’s wildlife.
“The Idaho Senate’s sudden move to pass this bill in the eleventh hour incentivizes the cruel deaths of more than 1,000 wolves across the state,” said Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“This brutal war on wolves must be stopped, and we urge the House to deny this bill,” Zaccardi added.
Maggie Howell, the head of the Wolf Conservation Center, also described the move as the latest in a hostile and extreme campaign against wolves that fails to take into account the creatures’ value to the local ecology.
“Beyond the wanton cruelty and devastation the passage of this bill would bring to wolves, this legislation poses a threat to wolves nationwide,” she told the New York Times. “With the Trump administration’s decision to transfer wolf management authority from the federal government to the states, Idaho’s policies can influence expectations about wildlife management beyond its borders.”
As Marine Life Flees the Equator, Global Mass Extinction is Imminent: Scientists
The waters surrounding the equator are one of the most biodiverse areas in the globe, with the tropical area rich in marine life including rare sea turtles, whale sharks, manta rays, and other creatures.
However, rampant rises in temperate have led to a mass exodus of marine species from the sensitive region – with grave implications for life on earth.
While ecologists have long seen the thriving biodiversity of equatorial species holding constant in the past few centuries, a new study by Australian researchers published in The Conversation has found that warming global temperatures are now hitting the equator hard, potentially leading to an unprecedented mass extinction event.
The researchers from the Universities of Auckland, Queensland, and the Sunshine Coast found that as waters surrounding the equator continue to heat up, the ecosystem is being disrupted and forcing species to flee toward the cooler water of the South and North Pole.
The massive changes in marine ecosystems that this entails will have a grave impact not only on ocean life – essentially becoming invasive species in their new homes – but also on the human livelihoods that depend on it.
“When the same thing happened 252 million years ago, 90 percent of all marine species died,” the researchers wrote.
To see where marine life is headed, the researchers tracked the distribution of about 49,000 different species to see what their trajectory was. The global distribution of ocean life typically resembles a bell curve, with far fewer species near the poles and more near the equator.
However, the vast alteration of the curve is already in motion as creatures flee to the poles, according to a study they published in the journal PNAS.
These changes augur major disruptions to global ecosystem as marine life scrambles in a chaotic fight for food, space, and resources – with a mass die-off and extinction of creatures likely resulting.
The research underscores the dire need for human societies to control rampant climate change before the biodiversity and ecological health of the planet is pushed past the point of no return.
Rare Creature Photographed Alive In The Wild For The First Time Ever
Advances in the methods used by researchers to watch wildlife have allowed for the photographing of a rare creature whose image had never been captured in the wild before.
Researchers in the West African nation of Togo were able to spot the rare Walter’s duiker, a rare species of petite African antelope, for the first time in the wild thanks to camera traps equipped with motion sensors.
In addition to the Walter’s duiker, the camera traps were also able to discover rare species of aardvarks and a mongoose, reports Gizmodo.
At a time when the extinction of entire species is becoming more common worldwide, such devices should help conservationists not only preserve creatures sought by bushmeat hunters but also spot rare animals whose presence is elusive for human observers. In the past, biologists were forced to rely on the same hunters for information.
“Camera traps are a game changer when it comes to biodiversity survey fieldwork,” said University of Oxford wildlife biologist Neil D’Cruze.
“I’ve spent weeks roughing it in tropical forests seemingly devoid of any large mammal species,” D’Cruze continued. “Yet when you fire up the laptop and stick in the memory card from camera traps that have been sitting there patiently during the entire trip—and see species that were there with you the entire time —it’s like being given a glimpse into a parallel world.”
The Walter’s duiker was discovered in 2010 when specimens of bushmeat were compared to other duiker specimens. The new images of the creature are the first to have been seen.
Rare species like Walter’s duiker are often not listed as “endangered” by groups like the International Union for Conservation of Nature due to a lack of data.
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