How do animals deal with it and where can they escape to it?

Firefighters in southern Europe and eastern Germany are currently battling several wildfires. It is often forgotten in this context that not only people in neighboring villages and towns are at risk, but also the inhabitants of the forest: animals, from insects to birds to game.

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But what happens to them when the fires eat their way through the forest and the temperature of the earth reaches more than 100 degrees? “Many large mammals can escape relatively easily, and they see the fire relatively early,” says Kristen Toll-Noulting, a biologist and land use team leader at the German Conservation Union (NAPO) in an interview with the German Liberation Network (RND). ). These include wild boars and deer.

Firefighting can confuse animals when escaping

“They can also tell which direction the fire is coming from,” she says. However, large firefighting operations with helicopters and fire trucks can confuse them in this context. In exceptional cases, this may cause them to flee in the wrong direction.

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Torsten Reinwald, a spokesman for the German Hunting Association (DJV) and also a biologist, points to another problem with game escape to the RND: “The fleeing animals are under severe stress,” he explains. Their territory will be destroyed and they will have to move to another area. “Then there is a kind of indefinite competition and struggle for living space and food.” And deer are also in the so-called breeding season, when they breed. “The areas are clearly defined,” the expert explains. If the roebuck escapes to another area, it also has a lot of tension – and fights break out, too.

Foxes can stay partly in a burrow

On the other hand, other animals can survive in their area despite the fire. “Some species, such as foxes or badgers, can also hide in their dens in the woods,” says Nabu Toll-Noulting biologist. “When the temperature of the flames is around 500 degrees, it is relatively safe for animals in lower burrows.” So some amphibians bury themselves in the ground. However, in the case of especially severe and intense fires, this can also lead to death.

Meanwhile, most birds can escape by air, according to Tölle-Nolting. “There are even birds of prey that take advantage of wildfires.” For her, young animals that die in a fire are a good source of food. This also included escaping from panicked insects, which they could catch with relative ease.

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Some insects die

“Some insects manage to escape, but some also die,” says a biologist about this group of animals. So far, however, there have been no studies, at least for Europe, that animal species would be permanently threatened by wildfires. But if this takes on the dimensions of what happened in Australia two years ago, when millions of koalas were burned to death, it could be something else again. But things are not far away in Germany.

In this country, it has so far been possible to repopulate the areas again relatively quickly, according to Toll Nolting of Naboo. “Other species come after that because a whole new habitat has been created.” And then there are also the animals that love fire, as the biologist explains: “For example, there is the black pine beetle, which lays its eggs under the fiery bark of trees that have just been burned stops.” Because fresh trees secrete spruce as a protective mechanism against beetles – this is no longer possible with a burnt tree. These special beetles can sense fires from miles away and then come flying.

The population is not yet at risk

Overall, Tölle-Nolting’s assessment is: “Forest fires on the current scale do not lead to the death of animals that have a negative impact on large populations or lead to widespread extinction. However, small populations can certainly be affected.” From the point of view of From a biological standpoint, the population does not matter if some animals die due to the fires.” They will not be invulnerable.

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