Bushfires kill Kangaroo island humans, kangaroos, others

This 4 January 2020 video from Australia is called Kangaroo Island fires continue as locals count cost of damage to infrastructure, animals | ABC News.

This 30 December 2019 video says about itself:

Volunteers struggle to save wild animals from Australia fires

There are no official counts or estimates of how wildlife has been affected by the deadly bushfires in Australia that have destroyed more than 4 million hectares (9.9 million acres) in five states since September. The fire and heat are either killing the native fauna such as kangaroos, wallabies, wombats and echidnas, or driving them out of the bushland and into peoples homes.

Translated from Dutch NOS radio today:

“The fire went so fast, the animals had no chance”

“Your heart is breaking. It was really devastating.”

Although it is not yet possible to record the exact extent of the damage, it is already clear that the unique nature on the Australian Kangaroo Island has suffered greatly from the wildfires. The island, slightly larger than the Dutch province of Noord-Brabant, is popular with eco-tourists.

Hundreds of kangaroo and sheep carcasses can be seen on images and many habitats of rare species have been lost.

“The fire moved so fast that most animals had no chance,” says ecologist Pat Hodgens in Australian media. “Only by chance, some habitats may have been spared. Let’s hope so.”

A 78-year-old travel guide and his 43-year-old son died on the island when they were caught up in their car by the flames. A total of 24 people died in the fires throughout Australia and an estimated 500 million birds, mammals and reptiles died.

In addition to the many kangaroos that give the island its name, there was also a large koala population, which, unlike the animals on the mainland, was not yet plagued by a persistent chlamydia infection. After the fires, a game park on the island currently handles eighteen specimens, but has had to finish off many more. Shepherds have also euthanised hundreds of wounded sheep.

In addition, there is serious concern about, eg, the endangered marsupials, bandicoots, protected glossy black cockatoos and vulnerable Kangaroo Island dunnarts on the island. The eight game cameras that were used to monitor the latter species were lost in the flames, which means that the 300 animals were probably burned.

“Even if there are survivors, there is no food for them now,” ecologist Heidi Groffen sighs to AP. “We hope to catch a few before they are completely gone.”

Gray-headed flying foxes

One of the centers that takes care of injured animals is the Australia Zoo, founded by the world-famous conservationist Steve Irwin.

His daughter informed via Instagram that the animal park itself is not threatened by the flames and that 90,000 animals have already been treated. Among them is also a whole colony of gray-headed flying foxes that were in a rescue center that was in danger of catching fire.

View this post on Instagram

Our @AustraliaZoo Wildlife Hospital takes in animals from all over Australia. Hundreds of grey-headed flying foxes, a species listed as vulnerable, have been flown to Queensland after the rescue centre they were recovering in was at risk from fire and evacuated. Some of the orphans are now being cared for by the team at the hospital until they’re big enough to go home, and there’s no threat of fire. 🦇 In September, flying fox admissions to the hospital skyrocketed by over 750% due to drought conditions and lack of food. Flying foxes are now being drastically affected by wildfires and we’re again seeing an influx of these beautiful animals from across the country. This week, we treated our 90,000th patient. To cope with so many animals being admitted to the hospital, in 2019 we opened a sea turtle rehabilitation centre, sea snake ward and are about to complete a new bird recovery area, but it’s still not enough to keep up. We need to build a new ward for our patients. Wildlife Warriors from around the world are asking how they can help us save native wildlife, you can donate on our website www.wildlifewarriors.org , or support our fundraiser to start construction of our newest ward by visiting the link in my bio! 💚

A post shared by Bindi Irwin (@bindisueirwin) on

Many Australian celebrities are now committed to benefit campaigns because of the fires. Actress Nicole Kidman donated $ 500,000 and called on others to do the same. Singer Pink donated the same amount, and rapper Iggy Azalea, born in Sydney, also called on to give generously with a picture of a rescued koala.

A collection by Australian comedian Celeste Barber, who has family in the affected area, was also widely shared. Almost three million euros were raised in three days for emergency aid.

Earlier this week, tennis star Nick Kyrgios had promised to donate 125 euros for every ace he hit at the ATP Cup, which had to move to Victoria due to the smoke in Sydney. The promise has already cost him around 2500 euros.

“It’s hard,” said the Australian emotionally after his first game. “At every store I could only think of that. It is difficult to concentrate on tennis then.” He said he was happy to be able to donate this money to firefighters, victims and conservationists.

Other players gave their own spin to Kyrgios’ initiative. Simona Halep, not known for her aces, promised to donate to every time she gave her coach a hard time played on the track, “this way the amount goes up faster”. The Australian Ashleigh Barty even promised to donate her entire prize money from the Brisbane tennis tournament that starts tomorrow.

In total, an area slightly larger than the Netherlands has gone up in flames. Australian Prime Minister Morrison, criticized for his lack of urgency, has called on 3,000 military reservists to help fight the fires. …

The effects of the fires are also noticeable in New Zealand, about 2,000 kilometers away: the smoke turns the sky orange there.

This 5 January 2020 video says about itself:

The sky above the New Zealand city of Auckland turned orange with haze from Australia’s raging bushfires 2,000 kilometres (1,243 miles) away on Sunday.

Koala drinks Australian cyclist’s water

This 27 December 2019 video from South Australia says about itself:

Koala approaches cyclist for drink from water bottle in Australia

Dec. 27 (UPI) — A cyclist in Australia stopped to give a drink from her water bottle to a thirsty koala that approached her bicycle in the road.

Anna Heusler said she and some friends were cycling in the hills near Adelaide, South Australia, when they encountered a koala in the road.

“We were descending from Norton Summit Road back into the city early this morning and we came around a bend and there was a koala sitting in the middle of the road,” Heusler told 7News. “Naturally, we stopped because we were going to help relocate him off the road.”

A video posted to Instagram shows the koala accepting a drink from her water bottle and climbing onto her bicycle.

“I stopped on my bike and he walked right up to me, quite quickly for a koala, and as I was giving him a drink from all our water bottles, he actually climbed up onto my bike,” she said. “None of us have ever seen anything like it.”

She said the koala was escorted back to the woods at the side of the road.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Because of the ongoing fires and heat, koalas are having a hard time and thousands have recently died. That estimate was made by Australian Environment Minister Ley yesterday.

The minister thinks that possibly 30 percent of all koalas in the affected region have died, “because about 30 percent of their environment has been destroyed”. It would then be about 8000 dead koalas. …

In the coming days, another heatwave is expected in the eastern part of Australia, which has been dealing with catastrophic forest fires for weeks. In total there are around two hundred fires, of which more than half in the state of New South Wales.

Hundreds of homes have been destroyed and so far the forest fires have cost the lives of eleven people.

Australian woman saves koala from bushfire

This 19 November 2019 video says about itself:

A woman risked her own safety to rescue a burnt koala from an Australian bushfire.

In the dramatic video, you can see her rush to the animal’s aid as it crossed a road near Long Flat in New South Wales.

She wraps the koala in her shirt, then gives the poor thing some water.

Its cries for help had been answered.

The local woman told an Australian news outlet her name was Toni.

She said she would take the koala to the nearby Port Macquarie Koala Hospital.

BuzzFeed News says over 30 surviving koalas have been taken to the hospital to be treated for burns and dehydration.

More than 350 koalas are thought to have died from the flames in a major habitat.

Luckily, the marsupials have a canine on their side.

This is Bear, the Cattle Dog crossbreed from Queensland.

Bear is trained to find and save koalas hurt in Australia’s bushfires.

The hot, dry summers in Australia are a perfect storm for bushfires.

But drought conditions and high temps have sparked fierce blazes early.

In November, bushfires have taken the lives of at least four people, burnt about 2.5 million acres, and ruined more than 300 homes.

There are good people in Australia. Unfortunately, these people are not in the government; which denies climate change, the main cause of these lethal bushfires.

This 5 November 2019 video from Australia says about itself:

Koalas rescued after NSW north coast fires kills hundreds of others, destroys habitat | ABC News

After bushfires razed a critical koala habitat south of Port Macquarie on the NSW north coast, several surviving koalas are being tended to by volunteers to help them heal. But while it will be months before they’re ready to go home, the recovery of their habitat could take much longer.

Read more here.

Australian cities bathed in smoke from hundreds of bushfires: here.

Australian wombats and climate change

This 2018 video is called George the Wombat Begins New Life in the Wild | Nat Geo Wild.

From the University of Queensland in Australia:

Jaw-some wombats may be great survivors

November 5, 2019

Flexible jaws may help wombats better survive in a changing world by adapting to climate change’s effect on vegetation and new diets in conservation sanctuaries.

An international study, co-led by The University of Queensland’s Dr Vera Weisbecker, has revealed that wombat jaws appear to change in relation to their diets.

“The survival of wombats depends on their ability to chew large amounts of tough plants such as grasses, roots and even bark,” Dr Weisbecker said.

Climate change and drought are thought to make these plants even tougher, which might require further short-term adaptations of the skull.

“Scientists had long suspected that native Australian marsupial mammals were limited in being able to adapt their skull in this way.

“But in good news, our research has contradicted this idea.”

The team used a technique known as geometric morphometrics — the study of how shapes vary — to characterise skull shape variation within three different species of wombat, with each species having a slightly different diet.

The data were collected with computed tomography — known to most as CT scanning — and analysed with new computation techniques developed by UQ’s Dr Thomas Guillerme.

Dr Olga Panagiotopoulou, who co-led the research project from the Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute, said the study suggested that short-term jaw and skull adaptation was occurring.

“It seems that individuals within each wombat species differ most where their chewing muscles attach, or where biting is hardest,” Dr Panagiotopoulou said.

“This means that individual shapes are related to an individual’s diet and feeding preferences.

“Their skulls seem to be changing to match their diets.

“There are a number of factors that can influence skull shape, but it seems that wombats are able to remodel their jaws as the animals grow to become stronger and protect themselves from harm.”

Dr Weisbecker said the team was particularly excited that the critically endangered northern hairy-nosed wombat, with around 250 individuals left, seemed to be able to adapt to new diets.

“In order to protect endangered animals, it’s sometimes necessary to translocate them to new sanctuary locations where threats are less, but diets may be quite different,” she said.

“Our findings suggest that future generations of these northern hairy-nosed wombats will adapt well to a different diet in a new home.

The researchers are planning to use a similar analysis on koala skull shapes.

Central American Woolly Opossum at Panama feeder

This video from Panama says about itself:

Central American Woolly Opossum Makes A Nocturnal Visit – Oct 30, 2019

What’s that creeping about in the dark forest with its eyes all aglow? It’s a Central American Woolly Opossum. Central American Woolly Opossums are strictly nocturnal, mainly active during the darkest parts of the night. They are completely arboreal, rarely venturing down to the ground.

Extinct Australian palorchestid marsupials, new research

This February 2018 video says about itself:

This week, we’ll be exploring the rise and fall of the incredible megafauna that used to roam Australia; from 3m tall kangaroos to giant wombats. We’ll discover how just one species of small marsupial evolved and radiated to create an ecosystem of giants.

From PLOS:

Ancient Australia was home to strange marsupial giants, some weighing over 1,000 kg

Extinct palorchestid marsupials likely filled a niche no longer occupied in modern Australia

Palorchestid marsupials, an extinct group of Australian megafauna, had strange bodies and lifestyles unlike any living species, according to a study released September 13, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Hazel Richards of Monash University, Australia and colleagues.

For most of the last 25 million years, eastern Australia was home to a now-extinct group of marsupials called palorchestids. These animals are well known for their large size, strange tapir-like skulls, and large claws, but so far there has been no detailed study of their limb morphology. In this study, Richards and colleagues examined more than 60 fossil specimens of palorchestids of varying geologic ages to characterize the function and evolution of their arms and legs.

Over the course of their evolution, palorchestids grew larger and stranger. Using limb proportions as a proxy for body size, these authors estimated that the latest and largest of the palorchestids may have weighed over 1,000kg. Furthermore, their forelimbs were extremely muscular and were likely adapted for grabbing or scraping at leaves and branches. Uniquely among known mammals, the elbow joints of the largest palorchestids appear to have been immobile and fixed at roughly a 100-degree angle, so that the arms served as permanently flexed food-gathering tools.

This study provides the first formal description of limb morphology in palorchestid marsupials and reveals a group of giant herbivores that probably filled a niche no longer occupied in modern Australian ecosystems. Fossil remains are still missing for certain parts of the palorchestid body, such as the shoulders and wrists, but the authors are hopeful that more material may be found in existing museum collections.

The authors add: “This study has allowed us for the first time to appreciate just how huge these mega-marsupial palorchestids were, while also providing the first comprehensive view of a strange limb anatomy unprecedented in the mammalian world. This research reveals yet more about the diversity of unique large marsupials that once roamed Australia not so long ago.”

Prehistoric Australian giant kangaroos, new research

This video says about itself:

Procoptodon is a genus of giant short-faced kangaroo living in Australia during the Pleistocene epoch.

Procoptodon goliah, the largest-known kangaroo that ever existed, stood approximately 2.7 m tall and weighed about 240 kg.

Other members of the genus are smaller, however, and Procoptodon gilli is the smallest of all of the sthenurine kangaroos, standing ~1m tall.

Procoptodon goliah was mainly known for living in semiarid areas of South Australia and New South Wales. These environments were harsh, characterized by vast areas of treeless, wind-blown sand dunes.
However, the area around Lake Menindee, in western New South Wales, had a cooler, wetter climate at the time Procoptodon existed. Fossilized footprints have been found on Kangaroo Island.

Procoptodon physiology was likely similar to that of the contemporary kangaroo; however, Procoptodon goliah were characterized by their large size and were more than three times the size of the largest kangaroos today.

These animals lived alongside modern species of kangaroo, but specialized on a diet of leaves from trees and shrubs.

P. goliah were distinguishable by their flat faces and forward-pointing eyes. On each foot they had a single large toe or claw somewhat similar in appearance to a horse’s hoof.

On these unusual feet they moved quickly through the open forests and plains, where they sought grass and leaves to eat. Their front paws were equally strange: each front paw had two extra-long fingers with large claws. It is possible that they were used to grab branches, bringing leaves within eating distance.

Procoptodon goliah were unable to hop as a mode of transportation, and would have been unable to accelerate sufficiently due to their mass.

From the University of Arkansas in the USA:

Crushing bite of giant kangaroos of ice age Australia

September 11, 2019

An in-depth analysis of the skull biomechanics of a giant extinct kangaroo indicates that the animal had a capacity for high-performance crushing of foods, suggesting feeding behaviors more similar to a giant panda than modern-day kangaroo.

The new findings, published in PLOS ONE, support the hypothesis that some short-faced kangaroos were capable of persisting on tough, poor-quality vegetation, when more desirable foods were scarce because of droughts or glacial periods.

“The skull of the extinct kangaroo studied here differs from those of today’s kangaroos in many of the ways a giant panda‘s skull differs from other bears,” said Rex Mitchell, post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Arkansas. “So, it seems that the strange skull of this kangaroo was, in a functional sense, less like a modern-day kangaroo‘s and more like a giant panda’s.”

Mitchell used computed tomography scans to create three-dimensional models of the skull of Simosthenurus occidentalis, a well-represented species of short-faced kangaroo that persisted until about 42,000 years ago. Working with the models, Mitchell performed bite simulations to examine biomechanical performance. The resulting forces at the jaw joints and biting teeth were measured, as well as stress experienced across the skull during biting.

Mitchell compared the findings from the short-faced kangaroo to those obtained from models of the koala, a species alive today with the most similar skull shape. These comparisons demonstrated the importance of the extinct kangaroo’s bony, heavily reinforced skull features in producing and withstanding strong forces during biting, which likely helped the animal crush thick, resistant vegetation such as the older leaves, woody twigs and branches of trees and shrubs. This would be quite different than the feeding habits of modern Australian kangaroos, which tend to feed mostly on grasses, and would instead be more similar to how giant pandas crush bamboo.

“Compared to the kangaroos of today, the extinct, short-faced kangaroos of ice age Australia would be a strange sight to behold,” Mitchell said.

They included the largest kangaroo species ever discovered, with some species estimated to weigh more than 400 pounds. The bodies of these kangaroos were much more robust than those of today — which top out at about 150 pounds — with long muscular arms and large heads shaped like a koala’s. Their short face offered increased mechanical efficiency during biting, a feature usually found in species that can bite harder into more resistant foods. Some species of these extinct kangaroos had massive skulls, with enormous cheek bones and wide foreheads.

“All this bone would have taken a lot of energy to produce and maintain, so it makes sense that such robust skulls wouldn’t have evolved unless they really needed to bite hard into at least some more resistant foods that were important in their diets,” Mitchell said.

The short face, large teeth, and broad attachment sites for biting muscles found in the skulls of the short-faced kangaroo and the giant panda are an example of convergent evolution, Mitchell said, meaning these features probably evolved in both animals for the purpose of performing similar feeding tasks.

Mitchell is also affiliated with the University of New England in Armidale, Australia, where he performed the analyses during his doctoral studies.