(TMU) — Tens of thousands of koalas are feared dead after South Australia’s Kangaroo Island went up in flames in what a local mayor called the “most devastating, shattering day” for the island community.
The island is known as a haven for the species and the only refuge for koalas that is free of chlamydia—a sexually-transmitted epidemic that has devastated Australia’s koala population.
Australia’s Seven News reported Saturday that the koala population impacted by the recent uptick in fires has been estimated at roughly 50,000.
Department of Environment officials say that local management of the disaster remains crucial to ensure that the disease doesn’t affect the local population.
Koalas that have suffered burns from the KI bushfire are being dropped off at the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park. This mum and Joey were picked up by a CFS crew this morning #7NEWS pic.twitter.com/sd9rYhdXeX
— Casey Treloar (@CaseyTreloar7) January 4, 2020
Bushfire recovery fighter Brenton Gear said:
“We’ve received reports that some koalas from Kangaroo Island have been taken to Adelaide by people who want to get help for them.
It’s understandable and heartening that people want to rescue these animals, but unfortunately it will mean that those koalas can’t be returned to the island because of the risk of contamination of the population there.”
Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted disease that has impacted wild koala populations at a 100-percent infection rate in some zones and is also widespread among humans. The infectious bacteria can cause infertility, death, and other diseases like blindness and bladder inflammation among the herbivorous marsupials.
Conservationists had largely seen the koala population of Koala Island as a last bastion for the species, capable of ensuring the survival of the threatened marsupials. In July, the University of Adelaide published a report quoting University of Adelaide School of Animal and Veterinary Sciences Ph.D. candidate Jessica Fabijan, who said:
“The impact of Chlamydia on populations of koalas in Queensland and New South Wales is devastating, with high levels of severe disease and death, and common infertility.
This last large, isolated Chlamydia-free population holds significant importance as insurance for the future of the species. We may need our Kangaroo Island koalas to re-populate other declining populations.”
Since fires began to burn in the national park, the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park has taken a number of koalas into its care.
Officials fear that the recent fires have left a number of koalas stranded and burnt, with an incalculable amount of koalas affected by the still-ongoing fires, which continue to burn amid an unprecedented national crisis.
While the animals of Kangaroo Island are isolated from the broader population of Australia and free of the disease, any introduction of chlamydia to the island could result in the further devastation of local koala populations.
The grim news comes after federal environment minister Sussan Ley told ABC radio last month that up to 8,000 koalas had been killed by the fires. The official noted that she’s been hard at work trying to establish corridors and plans to release hospitalized koalas. She added:
“We’ll know more when the fires are calmed down and a proper assessment can be made.”
Ecologists fear that nearly 500 million mammals, reptiles and birds are estimated to have been killed since the fires broke out in September, although the current death toll is impossible to calculate. The massive loss of life threatens to forever tip the balance 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.
Kangaroos, koalas, wallabies, wombats, potoroos, bandicoots, echidnas, possums, and other species all 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.
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.
Last month, 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.”
The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital has become a rallying point for those concerned about Australia’s beloved koala population. Since the crisis broke out, a GoFundMe page for the hospital titled Help Thirsty Koalas Devastated by Recent Fires has received over $2.15 million USD ($3.1 million AUD)—an all-time record in terms of funds raised for an Australian entity.
Australia is on fire and has been for over 6 months now and
it's constantly getting worse. People and animals are losing their homes and people and animals are dying!!
More than 30% of the Koala population is now GONE!
Everything is burning and we NEED HELP
— 🕸️🦇 Allanah 🦇🕸️ (@AllanahVAFitzy) January 2, 2020
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.
‘Horrific’ Swarms of Spiders, Snakes Invade Australian Homes Amid Devastating Floods
In recent years, Australia’s most populous state of New South Wales (NSW) has faced everything from drought to brushfires, a pandemic, a recent all-consuming plague of mice and now, devastating floods and massive hordes of spiders.
In videos shared across social media, hundreds if not thousands of spiders can be seen scrambling through people’s homes and garages prior to an evacuation order being issued on early Saturday in expectation of the floods.
In one video posted to Facebook by Melanie Williams, the arachnids of all sizes can be seen scrambling about in search of shelter from the coming deluge.
“Check these spiders out, oh my god, oh my god! Look at them all,” Williams said in the video. “No! No! Oh my god.”
The Guardian reports that Kinchela resident Matt Lovenfosse was pulling up to his home on Monday morning when he witnessed what appeared to be a sea of “millions” of spiders climbing about to escape the floodwaters.
“So I went out to have a look and it was millions of spiders,” Lovenfosse said.
“It’s amazing. It’s crazy,” he continued. “The spiders all crawled up on to the house, on to fences and whatever they can get on to.”
The flooding has resulted in some 18,000 residents fleeing their homes since last week, with authorities warning that the cleanup could last until April.
The floods have also seen thousands of snakes and insects of every kind scrambling to flee from the floods, with some snakes even leaping into rescue boats to avoid being drowned.
“There were also skinks, ants, basically every insect, crickets – all just trying to get away from the flood waters,” vistor Shenae Varley told Guardian Australia.
It’s just the latest reminder that Australia isn’t just another country – it may be its own entirely different world.
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