Heat-associated mortality events are common in areas like the Australian Outback, but a recent incident in South Africa that killed nearly 50 birds in a day has scientists worried.
It was in the searing heat of the afternoon when the staff at the Pongola Nature Reserve noticed that something was wrong.
Throughout the morning of 8 November 2020 in this corner of northern KwaZulu-Natal the temperature just kept rising.
By 10am the thermometer at the administration office registered 40°C. In mid-afternoon the temperature settled at 45°C and it was then that the staff in the nature reserve noticed dead and dying birds around their office buildings.
The following day rangers collected the corpses of 47 birds during an 11km patrol through the nature reserve.
What had happened the day before, scientists quickly realised, was South Africa’s first known heat-related die-off.
It didn’t just claim birds, it killed bats too.
These heat-associated mortality events usually happen in the scorching Australian Outback, and their arrival in South Africa has Professor Andrew McKechnie worried.
“Yes, I believe it is climate change and the reality is that climate change is increasing the frequency and the intensity of heatwaves,” the professor at the University of…