How ‘one-third’ of a bat population died in two days

Over two days in November, record-breaking heat in Australia’s north wiped out almost one-third of the nation’s spectacled flying foxes, according to researchers.

The animals, also known as spectacled fruit bats, were unable to survive in temperatures which exceeded 42C.

In the city of Cairns, locals saw bats toppling from trees into backyards, swimming pools and other locations.

Wildlife rescuers found surviving animals clumped together, usually on branches closer to the ground.

“It was totally depressing,” one rescuer, David White, told the BBC.

‘Biblical scale’

Last week, researchers from Western Sydney University finalised their conclusion that about 23,000 spectacled flying foxes died in the event on 26 and 27 November.

That tally was reached through counting by wildlife volunteers who visited seven flying fox camps following the heatwave.

Lead researcher Dr Justin Welbergen, an ecologist, believes the “biblical scale” of deaths could be even higher – as many as 30,000 – because some settlements had not been counted.

Australia had only an estimated 75,000 spectacled flying foxes before November, according to government-backed statistics.

“This sort of event has not happened in Australia this far north since human settlement,” says Dr Welbergen, who is also the president of the Australasian Bat Society, a not-for-profit conservation group.

The spectacled flying fox – so named for light-coloured fur around its eyes – can also be found in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and the Solomon Islands.

In Australia, the species is only found in a small rainforest region of northern Queensland, where it helps to pollinate native trees.

Dr Welbergen says about 10,000 bats of another species – black flying foxes – succumbed to the heat during the same two-day period.

Flying foxes often experience fatal heat stress when temperatures eclipse 42C, scientists say. During November’s heatwave, Cairns recorded its highest-ever temperature of 42.6C.

‘Canary in the mine’

Flying foxes are no more sensitive to extreme heat than some other species, experts say.

But because they often gather in urban areas in large numbers, their deaths can be more conspicuous, and easily documented.

“It raises concerns as to the fate of other creatures who have more secretive, secluded lifestyles,” Dr Welbergen says.

He sees the bats as the “the canary in the coal mine for climate change”.

“It is clear from the present data that these [heat] events are having a very serious impact on the species,” Dr Welbergen says. “And it’s clear from climate change projections that this is set to escalate in the future.”

Battle for protection

Experts have long been concerned about the survival of spectacled flying foxes.

Its population has more than halved in the past decade, says Dr David Westcott, who chairs the government’s National Flying Fox Monitoring Programme.

In the past, mass deaths in the population were often associated with cyclones. But in recent years heatwaves have become a bigger risk, Dr Westcott says.

“We’re very concerned. It’s been a massive population decline for a species that isn’t under a great deal of pressure outside of these weather events,” he tells the BBC.

Even prior to November’s heatwave, conservationists were lobbying the Australian government to upgrade its classification of the species from “vulnerable” to “endangered” – a move which would strengthen efforts to help it.

Globally, the species is listed as of “least concern” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.

Some experts worry that public antipathy to bats may hinder conservation efforts. This is usually related to fears about contracting diseases from bats, and their noise in urban areas.

This week, amid a heatwave in New South Wales, authorities warned people against approaching bats due to reports of aggression.

“They’re seen as these rats in the sky, so any preservation effort is hard going,” Dr Westcott says.

“You can bet there were some people glad to see so many bats go down in the heatwave.”

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Python found in pool with 500 ticks

Snake catchers in Australia have rescued a carpet python which was found covered in hundreds of ticks.

Video posted online showed the reptile, which was believed to be ill, coated in the parasites in a backyard swimming pool on the Gold Coast in Queensland.

A professional handler removed the snake and took it for treatment at a wildlife clinic.

Vets removed more than 500 ticks, snake catcher Tony Harris told the BBC, and it is expected to recover.

‘Like holding a bag of marbles’

Mr Harris said he believed the snake had been trying to drown the ticks in the pool.

“Obviously, [the snake] was extremely uncomfortable,” he said.

“Its whole face was swollen and blooming and it was completely overwhelmed by the ticks breeding on him.”

He said removing the tick-laden snake had felt like “holding a bag of marbles that were moving under my hands”.

Snakes often pick up small numbers of ticks or other parasites in the wild, said Associate Prof Bryan Fry from the University of Queensland.

However the presence of such a large amount of ticks indicated that the snake was likely to have an underlying illness, he said, possibly be due to heat stress or drought conditions.

“Clearly it was a seriously unwell animal to have had its natural defences so broken down,” Associate Prof Fry said.

“I doubt it would have survived if it hadn’t been taken out and gotten treatment.”

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Australia PM sorry for using Fatman Scoop

Australian PM Scott Morrison has apologised for posting a video online after discovering its soundtrack – a famous hip-hop song – contained lyrics that were “just not OK”.

The 11-second video showed government MPs raising their hands in parliament. In the caption, Mr Morrison praised his colleagues as being “on fire today”.

But social media users widely expressed puzzlement over its accompanying song – Be Faithful, by US artist Fatman Scoop.

The song has several explicit lyrics.

The section posted on Mr Morrison’s social media accounts was not explicit: “You got a hundred dollar bill, get your hands up! You got a 50 dollar bill, put your hands up!”

But the post was ridiculed as “bizarre” by people online. Many pointed out that the song, released in 1999, had explicit language and sexual references.

Some political observers said the post raised questions about whether Mr Morrison, who became prime minister three weeks ago, and his team were fully equipped for the top job.

But others dismissed such criticism as overblown, or saw a fun side.

The tweet was deleted about four hours after it was posted, and Mr Morrison apologised.

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Saudi woman ‘given refugee status’

A Saudi woman who fled her family and refused to leave a Bangkok hotel has been given refugee status by UN, the Australian government says.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, refused to board a flight from Bangkok to Kuwait on Monday and barricaded herself into her airport hotel room.

She said she feared her family would kill her for renouncing Islam.

The UN’s refugee agency has referred her case to Australia for possible resettlement.

In a brief statement, Australia’s Department of Home Affairs said it would “consider this referral in the usual way”.

“The government will be making no further comment on this matter,” it said.

Ms Mohammed al-Qunun’s father and brother have arrived in Thailand but she is refusing to see them.

Renunciation of Islam, known as apostasy, is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia.

Thai immigration officials had initially said she should return to Kuwait.

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Australian Jellyfish Swarm Stings Thousands, Forcing Beach Closings

MELBOURNE, Australia — Swarms of bluebottle jellyfish stung thousands of beachgoers on Australia’s east coast over the weekend, forcing officials to close a number of beaches in what they described as a “relentless” influx of the creatures.

The bluebottle usually inhabit more remote ocean waters. But strong winds have helped the jellyfish sail ashore in recent weeks.

For beachgoers, it has been a painful introduction to Physalia utriculus. More than 3,500 stings were reported this past weekend alone, according to Surf Life Saving Queensland, the aquatic rescue authority.

A whopping 3,595 people were stung by #bluebottles over the weekend. Due to the northeasterly winds, we will continue to see bluebottles hanging around. If stung, ensure you see a lifeguard to be treated with ice or hot water.

“We haven’t seen that amount of stings over the weekend in a very long period of time,” said Calan Lovitt, Queensland’s lifeguard coordinator.

There have already been 22,787 recorded stings since the beginning of Australia’s summer on Dec. 1, compared with 6,831 for the same period last year, the authority said.

The state’s beaches, Mr. Lovitt said, are “absolutely littered” with jellyfish.

While the strong winds are not unusual for this time of year, the sheer number of jellyfish has led some scientists to wonder whether climate change might be at least in part to blame for the invasion, as jellyfish tend to thrive in warmer waters.

But Kylie Pitt, the head of marine science in the School of Environment and Science at Griffith University in Queensland, said there was “remarkably little research done on bluebottles,” making it difficult to attribute arrival of the jellyfish to climate change.

Another explanation for the spike in injuries, one expert said, could be the presence of the rare giant multitentacled bluebottle — which delivers an excruciating sting.

“It tends to appear only every 10 to 30 years,” Lisa-ann Gershwin, a research scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Farther north, there has also been an increase in injuries from the potentially deadly (and near-invisible) Irukandji, whose sting is said to deliver intense lower back pain, vomiting, cramps, sweating and a sense of impending doom.

While some scientists are not ready to draw a line from climate change to the bluebottle invasion, they do agree that a spike in jellyfish populations worldwide is probably a sign that there is something wrong with the ocean.

“The prevalence of jellyfish, especially in particular locations, can be a real signal of an ecosystem that’s not functioning properly,” said Juli Berwald, a marine research scientist based in Austin, Tex. She said that warming waters, overfishing and even pollution had helped some types of jellyfish thrive.

The sting of a bluebottle jellyfish is usually not fatal. Some people do experience allergic reactions, however, which had resulted in a number of hospitalizations over the weekend, the surf lifesaving club told local media.

Mr. Lovitt said that people who are stung should remove the tentacles from the skin immediately before cleaning the area with seawater. Very warm water, he said, should be used to neutralize the pain. Ice can also be used to numb the area.

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Australia may restrict where migrants live

The Australian government has unveiled a proposal to force new migrants to live outside Sydney and Melbourne.

The policy would aim to ease congestion in Australia’s two biggest cities while boosting regional areas, Population Minister Alan Tudge said on Tuesday.

The government may introduce visa conditions to limit where some migrants live for up to five years, he said.

However, some experts have questioned whether the idea is enforceable and likely to achieve its goals.

Why is Australia having this debate?

Currently, about two-fifths of Australia’s 25 million people live in Sydney and Melbourne.

Though Australia’s population growth rate ranks 77th globally, according to the World Bank, it is high among OECD nations – rising by 1.6% last year.

The growth has been driven largely by migration, with most people settling in Melbourne, Sydney and south-east Queensland, according to the government.

That has contributed to infrastructure and congestion problems, with Melbourne and Sydney each expected to exceed eight million residents by 2030.

What does the government say?

“Settling even a slightly larger number of new migrants to the smaller states and regions can take significant pressure off our big cities,” Mr Tudge said in a speech on Tuesday.

The proposal is not detailed at this stage, but such visas could carry a “geographical requirement… for at least a few years”.

Other incentives would also be offered, Mr Tudge said, in the hope that migrants would remain in regional areas permanently.

Such visa restrictions would not extend to migrants on family reunion or employer-sponsored visas, he said.

The Labor opposition said the idea should be considered, but raised concerns about its lack of detail.

Would restrictions work?

Immigration and population experts told the BBC that such measures would not necessarily reduce congestion in cities.

“There is a strong argument for the government to redirect new migrants to the bush… but there needs to be sufficient employment for them, and that’s the big Achilles heel of the whole idea,” Prof Jock Collins from the University of Technology told the BBC.

Prof Peter McDonald, a demographer at the University of Melbourne, said the issue extended beyond migration.

“In Australia, the population growth has run ahead of infrastructure – we have been slow to put in the appropriate systems such as public transport networks that are needed for large cities.”

And former Australian Border Force chief, Roman Quaedvlieg, questioned whether the policy could be enforced.

Imposition of the visa condition is the easy part. Enforcement will be harder. Migrants will gravitate to opportunities & amenities in cities. It’s not possible to police the condition without substantial resources, both identifying breaches & sanctioning them.

End of Twitter post by @quaedvliegs

However, said Prof Collins, research showed that migrants had thrived in smaller communities with strong employment.

“Most of them have really liked living there in the bush, and said they had a warm welcome,” he said.

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'The job had made me not as nice a person': Former Australian MP at centre of 'G-day Mate' scandal

The former Australian MP at the centre of the ‘G-day Mate’ scandal has said he is “happy to be stepping away” from the job.

Australian minister Andrew Broad – who has since resigned from his position and has announced he won’t stand at the next election – hit headlines after he made contact through a website with an Irish woman in her 20s.

The political scandal has seen one minister resign and threatens to derail the government.

It’s understood the woman – who is from Dublin – resides in Hong Kong and Mr Broad first contacted her in September.

One message from the former politician to the young woman read; “Yeah I kinda got a big job now.”

He also compared himself to James Bond in later texts, telling her he knew “how to ride a horse, fly a plane and f*** my woman”.

He talked about kissing her neck as he whispered ‘G’day mate’ to her.

In November, it’s believed the pair met for dinner in Hong Kong, where Mr Broad was reportedly attending a conference.

However, it’s understood the young woman said she felt uncomfortable during the meeting, and decided to leave early.

Australian media reported on text messages the woman allegedly sent Mr Broad requesting money after the date.

Speaking to the Sunraysia Daily, Mr Broad said he is leaving politics to “come out the other side stronger and better”.

He called the scandal a “dumb mistake” and said he didn’t want to remain in politics a “half-laughing stock”.

“The job had made me not as nice a person,” he said, adding that his final speech in parliament will acknowledge his mistakes.

“I think I’d be lucky to have spent 10 weeks at home last year,” Mr Broad told the publication.

“That’s no excuse for meeting someone who wasn’t my wife and having dinner with her. I’m not saying it is (but) the job does have huge effects on family life.

“I’ve got to be honest; I’m happy to be stepping away.

“The job had made me not as nice a person.”

He also said he has prioritised family time since his departure from politics.

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Twisted Sister Clashes With Australian Politician Over Rock Anthem

SYDNEY, Australia — It’s the same thrashing guitar and rock music, but the words are different from the lyrics of Twisted Sister’s hit song, and the band is not impressed.

The heavy metal band from New Jersey has told an Australian politician to stop using its song “We’re Not Gonna Take It” in his advertising campaign.

Clive Palmer, a conservative politician and mining magnate, rolled out a national marketing campaign for his center-right United Australia Party over the holiday period.

Ads from the campaign use the music from “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” changing the words to “Australia ain’t gonna cop it.” The ads criticize spending and delays related to the National Broadband Network, an infrastructure project intended to improve the country’s internet speeds.

Dee Snider, the lead singer of Twisted Sister, responded on Twitter this week to questions from users who were incensed by the ad’s “butchering” of the song. He said the band was considering legal action.

One of the band’s guitarists, Jay Jay French, also said on Twitter that the band had not been informed that its music would be used for political purposes.

Mr. Palmer responded by suggesting that the band members were motivated by poor ticket sales. Mr. Snider is scheduled to perform in Sydney and Melbourne this month.

“Old rocker who can not sell enough tickets to their last gig need publicity,” Mr. Palmer wrote in a text message to Australia’s ABC News on Wednesday.

He, too, threatened to sue.

“I wrote the words personally that appear on our promotion and hold the copyright for those words,” The Sydney Morning Herald quoted Mr. Palmer as saying.

If members of the band “attempt to use my lyrics in any of their songs, I’ll not hesitate to take legal proceedings against them,” he said. “As foreigners, they should stay out of Australian domestic politics and stay where they are. Aussies are not going to cop it at all!”

This is not the first time Twisted Sister has clashed with politicians about the song, which, when it was released in 1984, struck a chord with its themes of rebellion and freedom of choice.

Paul D. Ryan, the outgoing speaker of the United States House of Representatives, used it during his vice-presidential run with former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts in 2012. Mr. Snider’s statement at the time denouncing Mr. Ryan’s use of the song included the comment: “There is almost nothing on which I agree with Paul Ryan, except perhaps the use of the P90X,” referring to Mr. Ryan’s workout program.

Mr. Snider did, however, allow Donald Trump to use the song in his presidential campaign. Mr. Snider told Newsweek that Mr. Trump was a friend and had asked him for permission, which he gave because Mr. Trump’s “rebelling” was in the song’s spirit. (Mr. Snider has since said that he was “not a fan of Trump’s style,” though he said the president was “not being given a chance.”)

Mr. Snider harkened back to the rebellion theme in further Twitter posts regarding Mr. Palmer’s advertisement.

“‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ is a song about EVERYONE’S right to free choice,” he said.

Mr. Palmer and his party “are NOT pro choice,” Mr. Snider wrote. “So THIS AIN’T HIS SONG!”

Jamie Tarabay covers Australia for The New York Times. @jamietarabay

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Australia sizzles in heat as mercury soars to 49C

Australia is sizzling through extreme heatwave conditions this week, with temperatures reaching record highs and emergency services on alert for bushfires.

The mercury is up to 16C higher than usual for this time of the year for southern Australia, with numerous towns setting new December records, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

“Heatwave conditions are being experienced across large parts of the country,” the weather bureau said, adding that the sizzling temperatures spanned the southern parts of four states and the Northern Territory.

Marble Bar, in Western Australia, which bills itself as the nation’s hottest town, recorded a peak of 49.3C on Thursday.

Major cities across the country are also affected, with the thermometer pushing towards 40C and the heat set to linger into the new year.

In Sydney, thousands of people flocked to beaches to cool down, while the state’s health service issued a warning for poor quality air as ozone levels rise with the hot weather.

Emergency services have issued fire bans and warnings and called on people to stay out of the extreme heat.

A southerly wind change is expected to bring cooler wind conditions in southern Australia that will gradually extend inland into South Australia and Victoria state before weakening.

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Australia swelters through heatwave as temperatures reach up to 40C

Australia looks set to sweat through one of its hottest Decembers ever, the national weather bureau said on Friday, prompting fire bans, health warnings and big crowds trying to cool off at beaches.

As the country’s hottest town, Marble Bar in the remote northwest, endured its warmest day ever, forecasters said the heat would spread southeast where the big cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide would endure monthly average temperatures up to 16 degrees Celsius higher than usual.

The capital, Canberra, was bracing for its hottest December day on record – 39C (102F) – on Saturday.

“We’re going to see December records tumbling,” said Diana Eadie, a meteorologist at the Bureau of Meteorology.

“We’re definitely not out of it yet, in fact I would say it’s going to be peaking over more populated areas this weekend.”

December is the beginning of the Southern Hemisphere summer. January and February can be even hotter.

For the four-fifths of Australia’s 25 million people who live on the coast, the summer typically means lazing on the beach, watching cricket or both.

But the unusually high temperatures add to a sense of exhaustion for a farm economy already reeling from a year of drought.

“It adds insult to injury,” said Laureta Wallace, a spokeswoman for the National Farmers’ Federation.

“Most farmers would have got some rain prior to Christmas but the benefit of that will have been eroded with this heat wave. Water’s an issue.”

The Bureau of Meteorology put the hot spell down to a combination of hot air being blown from the northwest toward the densely populated southeast, where a “blocking” high off the coast was stopping cooler winds from moving it on.

The bureau’s “extreme heatwave” warning, its highest category, includes Sydney for the next three days.

Sydney’s inland suburbs were forecast to swelter in 40C (104F) heat.

Almost the entire state of New South Wales had a “high” or “very high” fire danger, according to the rural fire service.

A “low-intensity heatwave” in neighbouring Victoria state was expected to spread south almost as far as the second city Melbourne.

Health authorities have issued warnings for pregnant women, babies, people aged over 65 and people with lung conditions since the heat eroded air quality.

The town recognised by Australians as their hottest, Marble Bar, with a population 174, had a reprieve on Friday from its 49.1C (120.4F) record a day earlier, enjoying a relatively comfortable 41.1C (106F) by midday.

“You really don’t want to be out digging holes in the middle of the ground, or chasing gold,” Lang Coppin, a former cattle rancher and gold prospector, told Reuters from Marble Bar.

“What we’ve always done is do the physical work in the morning and then knock off. Be like the kangaroos and get under the tree.”

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