Photograph by Doug Gimesy
Photograph by Doug Gimesy
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How many animals are affected by Australia's disaster?

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By Rachael Bale, ANIMALS Executive Editor

500 million animals? If you’ve been keeping up with the news of the Australia fires, you may have seen this statistic going around. It comes from University of Sydney professor Chris Dickman, and he explained that this number—480 million, to be exact—is an estimate of wild animals affected by the fires. Many have died directly from the flames, smoke, or heat, and many more died or will die as a result of losing their homes and sources of food. Others, like flying foxes (pictured above), are dying en masse from Australia’s record heat.

Dickman’s big number is based on 2007 research he did for WWF on the density of mammals in the state of New South Wales. He points out his estimate is conservative: It only counts mammals (minus bats), birds, and reptiles. It only applies to New South Wales. And it only assumes three million hectares of land burned, which is now outdated.

In fact, the real animal death toll is likely much higher. But: "We won’t know anything for sure until experts can begin to assess the damage once the fire season is over—and there’s still at least a month to go," says Nat Geo wildlife reporter Natasha Daly, who has written about the heat-stricken bats and how koalas have been affected by the fires.

Related: What you need to know if you were thinking of traveling to Australia

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Today in a minute

Stolen: Hard drives containing images of some of the world’s rarest animals were among the gear taken from Nat Geo photographer Joel Sartore at the Bali airport. Sartore, who has catalogued more than 9,800 vulnerable species as part of his Photo Ark project, had finished a three-week shoot in Bali when a carry-on bag with the hard drives, cameras, a computer, and his passport was stolen. “I need your help now to bring these hard drives home. No questions asked,” Sartore wrote in an appeal on Instagram.

Wrap the goats: How did a Caribbean island end a century’s domination by ravenous wild goats and rats? To rid itself of the invasive critters, Redondo used helicopters, goats wrapped in plastic, mountaineers armed with rat poison, and protective gear made out of pool noodles and yoga pants, Nat Geo writes. Now the native Redonda ground dragon is booming again.

Mixed bag: The world’s 14 varieties of black panther share great benefits at camouflage, but a new study finds their dark fur may impair visual communication between the big cats, Nat Geo reports. Understanding more about the melanistic cats may help protect the animals, many of which are declining due to habitat loss and poaching.

Venomous or poisonous? They are different categories. Venom, made by a creature, comes through a bite, a sting, or a spine, Jake Buehler writes. A poisonous organism administers secretions passively, usually through its skin, when another creature touches or ingests it (think poison frogs). Got it? There’s more. Some creatures are poisonous AND venomous.

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Waddle this way: How do a penguin’s webbed feet work without freezing the animal? The penguin is able to control the blood flow to the feet. The mechanisms allow the penguin to keep its feet a degree or two above freezing. Fun fact: The penguin’s body temperature is 104°F (40°C).

Related: Nat Geo's best animal photos of 2019

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The big takeaway

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Come back tomorrow for Whitney Johnson on the latest in photography news. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up here to also get Debra Adams Simmons on history, George Stone on travel, and Rachael Bale on animals and wildlife.

The last glimpse

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R.I.P.: It existed before flowering plants, bamboo, pandas. It outlived the dinosaurs, survived the Ice Age. Now, however, the mighty Chinese paddlefish, which grew up to 23 feet along, is gone, Nat Geo’s Douglas Main reports. The overfished paddlefish, a cousin of the sturgeon, once ranged the Yangtze River before the river was dammed and polluted. It’s “a reprehensible and an irreparable loss,” says Qiwei Wei of the Chinese Academy of Fishery Sciences, who’s been looking for the animal for decades.

Related: Large freshwater fish face extinction

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, with photo selections by Eslah Attar. Have an idea or a link? We'd love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com. Thanks for reading!