Wildlife loss in Australia much bigger than it appears

By Burak Bir

ANKARA (AA) – Australia's bushfires have killed an estimated 1.25 billion animals and burnt more than a billion trees so far, but even worse, they will cause permanent damage to the country's environment and wildlife presence, according to experts.

"The fires have burnt 8.5 million hectares [21 million acres] across six states and are estimated to lead to the deaths of more than one billion native animals, whether directly or indirectly," Stuart Blanch, senior manager for land clearing and restoration at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Australia, told Anadolu Agency.

Referring to the "unprecedented" nature of the fires, he said that although wildlife in Australia is familiar with fires, they are unable to escape the bushfires, suffering burns, starvation, dehydration and predation as the huge fires are so hot and fast-moving.

"Nationally, more than 700 species of plants and animals which live in or use forests are listed as threatened species under Australian environmental law," he said, adding the fires could push some species further to extinction.

Referring to modeling by the Crowther Lab in Switzerland to calculate the loss of trees, with 8.5 million hectares x 154 trees per hectare, he said more than one billion trees have been burnt so far due to the bushfires, which are the worst on record.

Touching on reported koala losses in the country, Blanch noted that 35,000 koalas have been killed so far, with 25,000 of the deaths on Kangaroo Island in South Australia state.

"There is an estimated 30 tons of CO2 being released from each hectare of forest burnt from only one modeling study in Australia," he added, pointing to another dimension of the crisis.

The bushfires, which erupted last August and continue to rage in the southern hemisphere's summer months, have exacerbated the environmental situation.

Reports also indicate that Australia's "terrible" air quality took a toll on public health, with hospitals crowded with patients suffering lung and heart damage.

– 'Recovering wildlife loss could take decades'

"The fires in Australia are having a major impact on wildlife and the ecosystems, which will require decades to recover and cause long-term impacts to species," Jennie Miller, senior scientist at the Center for Conservation Innovation at Defenders of Wildlife, told Anadolu Agency.

Touching on the negative effects of natural disasters such as hurricanes and fires on wildlife, she said they can erase wildlife populations which are already small due to human-induced operations such as development.

When a fire sweeps through their habitat, these species have nowhere else to go because human pressures have already constrained the space for wildlife, she added.

Comparing the bushfires with the "megafires" in the state of California in the U.S. over the past few years, she highlighted that as fires burn hotter and faster, they change the habitat, and wildlife are not evolved to handle this, which leads to permanent damage to wildlife presence.

"We’re watching as climate change increases the frequency of droughts, which is leading to megafires like the ones in Australia now…As climate change increases the frequency and intensity of environmental disasters, wildlife that already face declines from human pressures are less able to rebound from impacts like fire and hurricanes," she said.

Citing last year's assessment by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) which saw land degradation, over-harvesting and climate change as the top three factors playing a role in biodiversity loss, Miller said Australia's bushfires are one of the prime examples of it.

"Because they are wiping out wildlife populations and perhaps even species that are already teetering on the edge of extinction. As climate change changes environmental conditions, causing habitats to shift and natural disasters to increase in intensity, wildlife must figure out how to quickly adapt – or else go extinct."

Noting the importance of biodiversity, which has been highly damaged by natural disasters like fires, she highlighted that protecting biodiversity was critical in the protection of human beings as well.

Saying that the world is already faced with the results of some ecosystems transforming due to the collapse of species and food webs, she stressed that there are only a few years remaining to change this course.

"We need our leaders to support strong policies that address climate change by transforming the way we source energy and consume our resources […] We have the tools; we just need our leaders to choose and use them instead of keeping us on this course to extinction."

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By Handan Kazanci

ANKARA (AA) - Anadolu Agency is here with a rundown of the latest developments on the coronavirus pandemic and other news in Turkey and around the world.

- Coronavirus in Turkey

Turkey on Thursday confirmed 926 additional recoveries as the country began easing measures against the novel coronavirus, according to the country’s health minister.

The total number of recoveries from the disease hit 131,778 as 926 more patients were discharged from hospitals over the past day, Fahrettin Koca said on Twitter, citing Health Ministry data.

The country's death toll from the outbreak rose to 4,630 as Turkey reported 21 new fatalities over the last 24 hours.

Turkey conducted over 54,000 COVID-19 tests in the past 24 hours, bringing the total tally to more than 2.2 million, said Koca.

Meanwhile, Turkey plans to resume international flights to 40 countries gradually as of June 10, Transport and Infrastructure Minister Adil Karaismailoglu said Thursday.

International flights from Turkey will carry passengers first to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Bahrain, Bulgaria, Qatar and Greece, Karaismailoglu said in a statement.

Turkey suspended all international flights on March 28 amid COVID-19-related travel restrictions worldwide.

- Global coronavirus developments

A low death toll was once again recorded Thursday as France recovers from the coronavirus pandemic which plagued the country over the last three months, according to the latest statistics reported by the Health Ministry.

The country registered a total of 46 deaths in hospitals Thursday, a drop of 39 cases over those reported Wednesday.

Italy on Thursday reported 88 more fatalities from the pandemic, bringing the death toll to 33,689 as authorities unveiled new guidelines to prevent crowded summer spots like beach resorts from becoming new virus hotbeds.

The slowing trend in the number of deaths registered in May continued in early June, confirming that the peak of the crisis has been passed.

Face masks on English public transport will be mandatory from June 15, the British government announced Thursday, as a further 176 people died from the coronavirus over the past 24 hours.

British authorities announced that the UK-wide death toll from COVID-19 is now 39,904.

As Spain prepares for its state of emergency over COVID-19 to last until June 21, the Health Ministry reported Thursday that 195 more people were infected with the coronavirus and five more had died.

The number of infections diagnosed Wednesday was down slightly from the 219 people who tested positive Tuesday but up from Monday and Sunday. In total, 240,660 infections have been confirmed in the country.

Health officials in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza announced Thursday the arrival of medical supplies sent by Turkey to help fight the novel coronavirus outbreak.

In a statement, Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra confirmed that two polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines had been delivered for detecting the virus.

- George Floyd Memorial service

Hundreds of mourners on Thursday attended the first of several memorials for George Floyd – an unarmed black man who was killed in police custody on May 25.

The service at North Central University in Minneapolis, Minnesota was attended by Floyd's family and Ben Crump, the civil rights attorney representing the family, as well as celebrity guests.

Meanwhile, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday urged demonstrators joining protests over the death of George Floyd to get tested for the novel coronavirus.

Speaking at his daily press briefing, Cuomo said around 30,000 people have taken part in the statewide protests demanding justice for the killing of the unarmed black man in police custody.

Of them, 20,000 were involved in rallies in New York City.

In Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged citizens not to overlook the racism problem in Germany while intensely discussing racism and police brutality in the US after the death of George Floyd.

"This murder of George Floyd is very, very terrible. Racism is something terrible,” Merkel said Thursday evening in an exclusive interview with public broadcaster ZDF.

“Racism has always been present, but sadly we also have this [problem]. We should first sweep in front of our own door,” she stressed.

- Other developments

Turkey and Libya plan to advance cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean, including exploration and drilling activities, to further benefit from natural resources, Turkey’s president said in a meeting with Libya’s prime minister Thursday.

The meeting between Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Fayez al-Sarraj took place at the presidential palace in the Turkish capital Ankara.

Erdogan said Turkey and Libya have reached a consensus on expanding their cooperation areas on the territory of Libya.