SYDNEY, Dec. 19 (Xinhua) — An extreme heatwave in Australia’s Queensland state has wiped out more than 23,000 spectacled flying foxes, or about one-third of the species in the country, in an unprecedented mass death of the fruit bats amid climate change, local media reported on Wednesday.
“These are certainly very serious wildlife die-off events and they occur at almost biblical scales,” Western Sydney University ecologist Dr. Justin Welbergen told the ABC news channel.
“The population size of the spectacled flying fox in Australia is estimated to be about 75,000 individuals, give or take, so for all intents and purpose that means we have lost close to a third of the entire species in Australia,” Welbergen said.
The deaths were from bat colonies in the state’s Cairns area, where temperatures soared above 42 centigrade two days in a row, breaking the previous record temperature for November by five centigrade, according to the channel.
It was the first time the bats died from extreme heat in far northern Australia, where conditions were usually hot and humid but stayed below 40 centigrade, Welbergen said.
“Extreme heat events are increasing in frequency, also in terms of intensity and duration, and we can expect more extreme temperatures to occur increasingly frequently further north,” he said.
“A certain proportion of such an extreme event can certainly be statistically attributed to climate change for sure, ” he added.
There has been an average of one major die-off of flying foxes in excess of 1,000 deaths every year in the country, Welbergen said, with the environmental impact on the animals obvious since many of them roosted in urban areas.
Some residents were forced to leave their homes due to the smell from rotting carcasses of bats that dropped dead from trees in affected areas, according to the channel.
“These sorts of events really raise concerns around what is happening to other species, especially wildlife that have more solitary and cryptic lifestyles,” Welbergen said.