While the United States in the northern hemisphere is just beginning to thaw from record-breaking frigid temperatures, on the other side of the world in the southern hemisphere, Australia is experiencing an entirely different problem — a heat wave.
The heat is so severe that it has already caused up to 100,000 bats to die under stress, littering the ground and alarming authorities who warn locals not to touch the animals for fear of infection.
Weather forecasters in Australia said some parts of the sparsely populated Pilbara region along the rugged northwest coast on Thursday were approaching 122 degrees Fahrenheit. The record high of 123.3 F was set in 1960 in Oodnadatta, South Australia state.
The late arrival of the monsoon in northern Australia, which has a cooling effect, is contributing to the searing heat, said Karly Braganza, the manager of climate monitoring at the Bureau of Meteorology. Global warming also is playing a role, according to Braganza.
At least 50,000 bats had been killed by the heat in the state’s southeast, said Louise Saunders, president of the Queensland animal welfare group Bat Conservation and Rescue. But others put estimates up to 100,000 bats dead.
A spokesman for the animal welfare nonprofit RSPCA, Michael Beatty, told the Australian Broadcast Company the impact of the heat wave is “a catastrophe for all the bat colonies in southeast Queensland.”
Beatty is worried how the mass death will impact the ecosystem as a whole.
Take a look at footage of the “massive bat carnage” (Content warning: some strong language):
Heat-stressed bats — including the Black Flying Foxes, Little Red Flying Foxes and the endangered Gray-Headed Flying Foxes — cling to trees and urinate on themselves in a bid to reduce their body temperatures, Saunders said.
“As they succumb, they just fall in heaps at the base of trees,” Saunders said. “You can have 250 or more — it’s like dripping chocolate — all dying at the base of trees.”
There’s a health concern with the bats as well. Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr. Jeannette Young gave this message to locals, published in The Queensland Times:
“If you find a bat it is very important not to touch the bat because of the risk of infection with Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV),” she said.
“Some bats may appear to be dead but they’re not, and when people have attempted to remove them they have been bitten or scratched.
“Bats also have a claw on their wings which is a frequent cause of injury.
“If you are concerned about a bat that you think is dead, or if it appears injured, you should contact the RSPCA or your local wildlife group for advice on how to safely remove it,” she said.
But bats aren’t the only mammal having problems.
In Winton, famous for being one of the hottest spots in Queensland and also the place where Australia’s unofficial anthem “Waltzing Matilda” was penned, a “large number” of parrots, kangaroos and emus have recently been found dead in the parched landscape, said Tom Upton, chief executive of Winton Shire Council.
“That’s as much to do with the extended dry as it is with the heat wave,” he said.
South American countries are experiencing a heat wave as well, stressing people and animals. Zookeepers in Rio de Janeiro were giving animals ice pops to beat the heat.
Braganza with Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said the current forecast shows the heat is likely to last through the next week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.