It’s difficult to comprehend just how devastating the 2020 Australian bushfires are.
Over 6.3 million hectares (16 million acres) have been burned down, fueled by unprecedented heat and drought — and the figure continues to grow. Hundreds of millions of animals have been killed or injured by the fires, and entire species have likely been destroyed in the process.
Words can’t do this tragedy justice. Even animals which are not directly in the line of fire are heavily affected. A recent video showed a magpie mimicking the sound of firetrucks, which it had incessantly heard in recent days.
Stunningly, the Australian magpie reproduces the firetruck sound with high accuracy.
The magpie is a native Australian bird well known for its intelligence and ability to mimic. They have one of the biggest vocal ranges of any bird in the world and are known to reproduce commonly heard sounds such as dogs barking and running motors.
The cognitive abilities of the magpies are what enables them to mimic sounds, but the fact that they heard firetrucks day in and day out also helped.
“Remarkable, proof of the intelligence of these birds. I also see a Magpie, mimicking a fire siren in the Newcastle area, as a symptom of climate change. A metaphorical version of a ‘canary in a coal mine’,” wrote Paul Richards on the original post.
The canary in the coal mine has long faltered, in this case, and the problem shows no sign of stopping. There were about 136 fires burning across New South Wales (NSW) as of Monday 6th of January, and 69 of these are not currently contained.
There are already 24 confirmed casualties, and over 1,000 buildings have burned down. Several settlements have been evacuated by boat.
For the animals, however, the situation is much more dire.
Professor Chris Dickman estimates that 480 million animals have been affected since bushfires in (NSW) started in September 2019 — and most of these have been killed either directly by the fire, or by starvation as their habitat has been destroyed — and even this figure might be conservative.
Bushfires are accentuated by climate change. Rising temperatures and drought exacerbate the strength of wildfires. Climate change does not create bushfires, but it makes them much more powerful, which is what we have consistently been seeing in Australia.
Australia is one of the world’s largest producers of coal, and under the current administration, has been vocal against phasing out fossil fuels and reducing emissions. Australia is the victim of a tragedy that, unfortunately, it too has helped build.
Andrei's background is in geophysics, and he's been fascinated by it ever since he was a child. Feeling that there is a gap between scientists and the general audience, he started ZME Science -- and the results are what you see today.