Australia’s Heat Wave Is Torching the Continent
‘This sort of event has not happened in Australia this far north since European settlement.’
On Wednesday, Rohan Smyth, a resident of Alice Springs in northern Australia, posted photos on Facebook of about two dozen wild horses, dead and decomposing in various stages, covered in dust and branches at the bottom of a reservoir called “Deep Hole,” which residents say has never been completely dried up before.
“The wild horses have gone down there looking for their water which is normally there, and it's not been there, so essentially they just had nowhere to go,” Smyth told ABC News.
Australia—which is in the midst of its summer—has been gripped by a heatwave since November that continues to break records across the country. According to the Guardian, the country recorded its hottest December on record; five of the ten hottest days on record are from last week. The extreme temperatures have killed bats on a “biblical scale,” as well as over a million fish in a river in the southeastern region, according to the Independent. The Australian government’s Bureau of Meteorology blamed climate change for the heatwaves in their 2018 State of the Climate report, and warned of “further increases in sea and air temperatures, with more hot days and marine heatwaves.”
The Guardian reported that humans have not been immune to the long heatwave, either, with dozens of patients checking in to hospitals with heat-related conditions. Health officials have declared the heatwave a threat to public safety, encouraging people to take precautions by limiting time outdoors as much as possible to avoid sun exposure. The extreme temperatures have also caused wildfire deaths, bush fires and an increase in hospital admissions, according to the BBC.
“Anyone experiencing severe respiratory distress should seek immediate medical help,” said Richard Broome, Director of Environmental Health in New South Wales, in a statement. Broome said that high temperatures will exacerbate air pollution, which is expected to get particularly bad in Sydney. “Ozone can irritate the lungs, and that people with asthma need to follow their Asthma Action Plan and have their relieving medication with them,” he said.
Wild horses are not the only animals suffering from the heat wave. Since November, hundreds of dead bats have been falling from the skies in and around Sydney, their brains reportedly boiled by the extreme heat. Nearly one-third the population of an endangered bat species have perished.
“This sort of event has not happened in Australia this far north since European settlement,” Justin Welbergen, an ecologist and president of the Australasian Bat Society, told the BBC.
A local Alice Springs resident, Ralph Turner, who was one of the people to discover the horses commented, “It’s just terrible to know these beautiful animals died this way.”
The death of these wild horses, “calls the community to wonder what steps are our leaders taking to tackle the effects of climate change in the future and what steps call we all take to prevent the suffering of innocent animals across our country,” wrote Smyth.
The Australian Government’s Bureau of Meteorology said in their 2018 State of the Climate Report that the ocean surrounding Australia has warmed by one degree celsius since 1910 and continues to warm, contributing to longer and more frequent heat waves. Based on their projections, Australia will continue to have less and less cold extremes over the years, and more hot days, heatwaves and droughts.
Australia is a signee to the Paris climate agreement, though the Guardian reported that it will miss its targets for lowering emissions.