Australian wildfires are putting wildlife at risk

By Jason Allen-Roomet ‘21

Paul R. Ehrlich once said, “In pushing other species to extinction, humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it perches.” Philadelphia native Paul R. Ehrlich, best known for his warnings about the population growth and limited resources, knew exactly what we were headed for as the human race. In his many teachings at the University of Stanford, Paul R. Ehrlich in his professing career established many theories that are relevant to the destruction of humanity and life on earth: how we humans are taking our resources and wildlife for granted, unaware of the eventual consequences of our actions.

Proven websites like The Washington Post, TIME, and NPR have stated that multiple animal species are on the brink of extinction after the recent devastating fires in Australia. These sites have also informed us that the air quality in cities such as Sydney is at an all-time low, so low that carbon is spreading at a dangerous rate. For those unaware of the dangerous effects of the chemical carbon black, with a significant amount inhaled, it can result in temporary or permanent damage to your lungs and heart. Not only are the animals dying from the scorching heat of the fires, but the menacing chemicals as a result of them.

The bushfires in Australia have put an end to many innocent lives. However, people aren’t talking enough about animals like the glossy black-cockatoo and long-footed potoroo which are on the brink of extinction. The thought of nearly a billion animals dying in the span of a couple of days probably didn’t come to anyone’s mind, but the reality of it is it’s a real possibility.

First discovered in 1807 by a Dutch naturalist, the glossy black cockatoo is the smallest member of the subfamily Calyptorhynchinae found in eastern Australia. These animals can reach up to 50 meters in length and are also known to be sexually dimorphic.

The glossy black-cockatoos mostly live in eastern Australia. From Queensland in the south-east to eastern Victoria, these birds are known to be a more local species. This bird is also known to be the smallest of the five black cockatoo species. The recent Australian bushfires are wiping out the glossy black-cockatoo, considering they’re more prone to extinction due to their smaller population in eastern Australia and bare minimum population further to the West. Many sources have come out to the public and have given their estimations on the amount of casualties ranging from 200-300, which is concerning because their population was sitting at around 400 before the fires had occurred.

Aside from the facts, the glossy black-cockatoo are beautiful birds. Their black feathers with red shading on the inside of them, and the yellow dots on their face are absolutely astonishing. It would be a real shame if these animals were indeed found to be extinct after the mayhem.

“There is grave concern for Kangaroo Island’s endangered glossy black-cockatoo. Before the fires, there were about 400 on the island, says Daniella Teixeira, a Ph.D. student at the University of Queensland who studies the species”, as quoted by Amy Gunia in an article entitled “Wildfires Are Raging Outside Every Major City in Australia” of TIME.

Another animal possibly on the brink of extinction in Australia after the tragic fires are the long-footed potoroo. First discovered in 1967, these creatures are relatively new to the world. At first glance, long-footed potoroo look like the average mouse or rat that you would find daily. The long-footed potoroo are a type of kangaroo-like marsupial derived from rats. Rats were first known to roam the earth 145 million years ago. You can’t say the same about the long-footed potoroo, who were founded just 53 years ago in southern Australia. What makes these animals different from their ancestors, the rat, would be their physical appearance. Just looking at the animal itself, it can be seen to be a mixture of many types of small creatures. It can be drawn from relation to the rat, muskrat, kangaroo, and even the beaver. These animals are also seen to be much chubbier than your average rat, with their average weight of four pounds compared to the one and a half pound average weight of the rat.

The long-footed potoroo’s presence on Earth after the fires has a lot of people concerned. Although nothing is fully confirmed yet, the first-glance look at the situation for the long-footed potoroo’s small population in Australia isn’t a good one. As stated by Amy Gunia in an article entitled “Wildfires Are Raging Outside Every Major City in Australia” of TIME,“He is worried about the future of animals like a forest-dwelling rat-kangaroo called the long-footed potoroo; the greater glider (a fluffy, possum-like creature).”

Despite their short but meaningful history on our planet, the long-footed potoroo might in fact be extinct at this point in time. Nothing is confirmed, but their small population in southern Australia is under heavy concern, given that the fires have spread significantly in the past months.

Another issue that roams the presence of the long-footed potoroo is the fact that these animals don’t really have a home outside of Australia. Over the years, so far no long-footed potoroo have been seen outside of their homes in southern Australia. The reason why this is an issue is because we can’t rely on more of their kind elsewhere on the planet, if in fact they are extinct.

Though we may not be able to confirm that both the long-footed potoroo and glossy black-cockatoos are extinct at this point in time, we can confirm that their population has taken a dramatic drop as a result of the fires in Australia.

The causes of the fire aren’t confirmed as of yet, but the destruction that the fires have caused are apparent. People tend to look at the headlines and just believe that the fire itself is the main reason why most of these animals and people are dying; they are indeed wrong.

“Australia’s bushfires have blanketed parts of the continent with pollution, affecting hundreds of thousands of people who are not in immediate danger from the flames,” states Darryl Fears in an article titled “On land, Australia’s rising heat is ‘apocalyptic.’ In the ocean, it’s worse.” of The Washington Post. In major fires, the threat isn’t just the fire itself, but the many results of the fires. Carbon black is a form of paracrystalline carbon that has a high surface-area-to-volume ratio. In simpler terms, carbon black is a material produced by the incomplete combustion of heavy products like FCC tar, coal tar, or ethylene cracking tar. Major exposure to this chemical can result in serious illnesses such as lung disease. Inhaling carbon black particles can irritate the lungs and cause coughing. Many animal studies have suggested that long-term exposure to carbon black may increase a person’s risk of cancer.

The bushfires have already released over half of Australia’s annual carbon emissions, as TIME states. Of the many chemicals that are found to be taking over Australia’s region, the main chemical that is being exposed is indeed the chemical carbon black.

“For these fires in the southeast south (of Australia), probably we are in the ballpark of 400 million tons of Carbon,” says Dr. Pep Canadell in the article entitled “Australia’s Wildfires Are Releasing Vast Amounts Of Carbon” of NPR.

Major cities in Australia like Sydney have reached an all-time low as far as air quality goes, leaving residents of this area to either flee, or stay indoors for a long period of time. To give a brief visual on how bad the air quality is in Sydney right now it is no better, if not worse, than the air quality of large cities like Jakarta and Shenzhen in Asia.

“According to Air Visual global rankings, Sydney’s air quality was on Friday morning was worse than in Jakarta and Shenzhen,”, writes Patty Huntington in an article titled “Sydney blanketed by smoke as air pollution hits record high due to bush fires” from the South China Morning Post.

The scary part of this whole process is that, although people living close to the areas affected by the large fires don’t seem to have anything wrong with them, most of them are inhaling at least one of the dangerous chemicals, more than likely carbon black. And as stated before, it can result in long-term effects like cancer and lung disease.

Even though these bushfires don’t impact us in the United States entirely, it will impact the future that we have in mind. That being said, the future of a clean and healthy planet with beautiful animals and landmarks to look after. The ancestors to our known animals here in the United States should not be forgotten just because they’re small in population. Beautiful animals are being killed by these fires. The time to act is now.

Whether it’s having trouble breathing or not having certain animals exist anymore on our planet, the Australian bushfires have greatly impacted our future. If we don’t start reacting to the tragedies that are unfolding right now, then it might be too late for positive change in our eventual future.