Australia’s animals are having a hard time cooling off in one of the country’s hottest summers ever, but humans are doing their best to keep the heat at bay.
How is Australia's summer affecting the country's animals?
High temperatures can be life-threatening to both humans and animals. 2017 was Australia’s third hottest year on record, and it seems that temperatures haven’t gone down much in the first month of 2018. The country’s hottest months fall on December, January, and February, so it may be a while yet before residents—both human and animal—get a respite from the high temperatures.
And that respite is much yearned for. Temperatures have recently soared past 40 degrees Celsius, and there have been reports that the heat has literally melted roads. Australians have been advised to stay indoors, and a fire ban has been enacted. While humans have ways of coping with the heat, animals need help doing the same. The high temperatures and unusually high humidity are putting animals in danger of suffering from heat stress.
Cyclist Matt Sully is giving water to a koala, which drank all the water from the bottle. [Photo by Matt Sully]
Earlier this January, hundreds of baby flying foxes, the country’s largest bat species, were found dead. Their brains had essentially fried, reports say, in spite of the best efforts to save them. Estimates say that thousands more will likely die before the Australian summer is over.
Koalas are suffering from the heat as well, and people have reported giving the marsupials water to help them cool down. This is unusual behavior for koalas, since they’re supposed to get most of the water they need from the food they eat. More human intervention may be necessary to keep koalas safe from the deadliest effects of the country’s high temperatures.
Meanwhile, zookeepers at the Australian Reptile Park are spraying water on reptiles with hoses and sprinklers. Birds are regularly misted with water as well.
However, wild and zoo animals aren’t the only ones who need a hand with the heat. Farm animals also need some attention. Chickens and dairy cattle are more partial to lower temperatures, while some breeds of beef cattle are more comfortable with temperatures ranging from 15 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit. Pigs are also susceptible to sunburn, as are freshly shorn sheep. Some animals are able to withstand high temperatures, but they may have a tough time with temperatures higher than what they’ve already adapted to.
Flying foxes are in danger of dying by the thousands. [Photo by Getty]
Animals don’t react to heat all in the same way. Some are more tolerant to higher temperatures, while some are not. It depends on whether they’re ectothermic or endothermic—cold-blooded or warm-blooded. Birds and mammals are warm-blooded, which means they have the ability to regulate their own body heat by panting or sweating to cool down. Cold-blooded animals, however, are unable to do the same for themselves. This is because their body temperature is highly reliant on their surroundings.
Bats, though they’re mammals, aren’t warm-blooded. Even so, they have techniques to cope with extreme temperatures. Unfortunately, even these coping mechanisms weren’t enough to save them from Australia’s heat.
The deaths of hundreds of bats, and the impending deaths of thousands more, are certainly unfortunate and disheartening. However, it could have been worse without human intervention. We may be responsible for the rising temperatures that are killing the most vulnerable of our animals, but we can do our best to make sure that these animals have a fighting chance.
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