As wildfires supercharged by climate change-induced drought and heatwaves ravage southern Europe, conservationists are increasingly concerned for the fate of the continent’s wild species which are struggling to stay ahead of the rampaging blazes.

“Fires falling outside natural patterns are jeopardizing the survival of wildlife, which are killed or injured through direct contact with smoke and flames or suffer widespread habitat destruction,” Margaret Kinnaird, global wildlife practice leader at WWF International, told AFP.

While it is hard to gauge the impact of individual fires on specific species, there is no doubt that the blazes destroying thousands of hectares of their natural habitat is bound to disrupt certain animals.

“There are so many fires it is impossible to know which ones are serious and having an impact,” said Craig Hilton-Taylor, head of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List unit. 

“In an area impacted by fire, it will also depend on the species found at those sites as to how susceptible they will be; some species are tolerant to fires and others may even thrive after fire.”

A burnt house at a forest in Agia Anna village on Evia island, about 181 kilometers north of Athens, Greece, August 11, 2021. /CFP

A burnt house at a forest in Agia Anna village on Evia island, about 181 kilometers north of Athens, Greece, August 11, 2021. /CFP

Turkey 

According to WWF’s preliminary observations, the fires in the forests and mountains of Turkey’s southern Mugla and Antalya provinces have caused “extensive damage” to habitats of the desert lynx, wild goat, eagle owl and woolly dormouse.

In total, the environment inhabited by 121 species has been damaged in Antalya and by 87 species, including woodpeckers and reptiles, in Mugla.

Greece 

In neighboring Greece, WWF said it had recorded “major disasters in many parts of the country, with the recent forest fires affecting vital ecosystems and countless wild and domestic animals.”

It said that the hard-hit north of the Attica region was home to the only area in southern Greece where critically endangered red deer lived, adding that the region was home to two packs of grey wolves, another endangered and protected species.

A fire spreads through forest and scrubland in northeastern Sardinia, Olbia, Italy, August 16, 2021. /CFP

A fire spreads through forest and scrubland in northeastern Sardinia, Olbia, Italy, August 16, 2021. /CFP

Italy 

Aspromonte National Park, which is located in the southern section of the Apennines, in Calabria, Italy, has been hit by a string of fires in recent weeks.

The park is home to the rare forest dormouse, WWF said.

Flames were also threatening several species endemic to Sardinia, “one of the most biodiversity-rich regions in the Mediterranean,” it added.

Among those at risk are the Sardinian deer, which was saved from extinction in the 1980s, the Sardinian partridge and the Sardinian hare, it said.

Fires in Abruzzo, Sardinia, Puglia and Sicily were having a “huge impact on wildlife and important ecosystems that are already threatened by fragmentation, land transformation, hunting, poaching and illegal logging,” WWF said. 

Flames and smoke from a wildfire are pictured in forest near Le Luc, southern France, August 17, 2021. /CFP

Flames and smoke from a wildfire are pictured in forest near Le Luc, southern France, August 17, 2021. /CFP

France 

A large blaze ravaging southern France near the tourist hotspot of Saint Tropez has burned part of the Plaine des Maures nature reserve.

The reserve is one of the last spots where Hermann’s tortoises, Europe’s last land turtle, still live. There are around 10,000 of the tortoises in the reserve, according to Concha Agero, deputy head of France’s Office for Biodiversity.

“We hope that with previous fires, they are able to burrow underground and will only be partially burned,” she told AFP.

Russia 

Russia’s largest region of Yakutia is ablaze, with fires “threatening many of the large animals that dwell in the region’s protected areas,” according to WWF. 

These include populations of elk, wild reindeer, roe deer, brown bears, wolves, wolverines, lynx and flying squirrel, as well as rare species such as musk deer, snow sheep, black-clawed marmot, white cranes, black cranes, gyrfalcons, peregrine falcons, white-tailed eagles, and golden eagles, it said.

(Cover image via CFP)

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Source(s): AFP



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