Jan 21, 2020

Australia's drought threatens to wipe out the platypus

A keeper at Taronga Zoo Sydney holds a baby platypus. Photo: Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Australia's climate catastrophe has triggered record-breaking heat waves, drought and a ferocious bushfire season — and it's left the platypus on the brink of extinction, a new study warns.

Why it matters: The semiaquatic egg-laying mammal was once considered widespread across the eastern Australian mainland, but drought conditions have led to "the extinction of local populations across about 40 per cent of the species' range," University of New South Wales researchers said in a statement Monday.

By the numbers: After examining issues including water resource development, land clearing, climate change and increasingly severe periods of drought, the researchers predicted platypus numbers would drop 47%–66% over 50 years.

  • Taking into account projected climate change rates, the unique animal's population numbers are forecast to plummet 51%–73% by 2070.

What they're saying: The University of Melbourne's professor Brendan Wintle, a co-author of the study, published in the February edition of the journal Biological Conservation, said preventative measures need to be taken now.

  • "Even for a presumed 'safe' species such as the platypus, mitigating or even stopping threats, such as new dams, is likely to be more effective than waiting for the risk of extinction to increase and possible failure," he said.
  • "We should learn from the peril facing the koala to understand what happens when we ignore the warning signs," Wintle added.

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113 animal species need urgent help after Australia's bushfires

Humane Society specialists check an injured Koala rescued from South Australia's Kangaroo Island fires on Jan. 15. Photo: Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images

113 animal species need an "emergency intervention" to help support their recovery after they lost at least 30% of their habitat to Australia's bushfires — and many lost substantially more than that.

Details: That's according to a report released by Australia's Environment Department, which consulted a panel of experts to identify species in need of urgent help — including the koala.

In photos: Australia endures floods, dust storms and brown rain as fires rage

Workers clean a court after overnight rain on day four of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne Thursday morning local time. Photo: William West/AFP via Getty Images

Soaring temperatures in the Australian state of New South Wales of over 100°F have triggered fresh bushfires, while dust has produced brown rain in Victoria.

What's happening: Dust storms have been pummeling parts of southeast Australia for days. A massive bushfire in the Australian Capital Territory impacted flights at Canberra Airport, where hail the size of golf balls struck earlier in the week. The storms come days after floods hit southeast Queensland, which has also been impacted by the fires. Here's what's been happening, in photos.

See photosArrowUpdated Jan 23, 2020

Australia's deadly fires: What you need to know

The Australian flag flies under red skies from fires on Jan. 4 in Bruthen, Victoria. Photos: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

The Orroral Valley fire has burned through nearly 25% of the district that's home to Australia's capital, News.com.au reports, after ACT Emergency Controller Georgeina Whelan said the fire was rapidly growing into the south east on Saturday.

The latest: The Orroral fire grew from 81,544 acres to at least 129,073 acres on Saturday, based on Whelan's initial statement, and ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr's following estimate. Whelan said the Orroral fire is expected to move "well into" New South Wales, which creates potential for it to reach and merge with other bushfires in the area.