Over 15,000 animals killed in Tenerife wildfire

by Lorraine Williamson
Tenerife wildfire

SANTA CRUZ DE TENERIFE – According to estimates from the Franz Weber Foundation, more than 15,000 animals have perished in the Tenerife wildfire, which was declared under control on Friday. This number includes domesticated animals such as pets and livestock. 

The estimate from Thursday, August 24 is based on predictive models by Professor Christopher Dickman from the University of Sydney, Australia. Dickman based his model on the wave of wildfires that hit Australia in 2020. According to the model, 10 to 15 animals of various species coexist per hectare of forest. This comparison was adjusted for the island. 

Estimate ‘extremely conservative’ 

Based on this, the figure estimated for the Tenerife fires is considered ‘extremely conservative’. It’s virtually impossible to know the exact number of invertebrates and small species living in a specific area. 

Human role in arson 

Consecutive reports from the Public Prosecutor’s Office for Environmental Affairs indicate that the vast majority of the fires were deliberately caused by humans. Reasons vary from creating grazing land for livestock, driving away wild predators, to enhancing hunting opportunities in a particular area. 

Call for preventive measures 

The conservation organisation urges both the central and Canarian governments to adopt public preventive strategies. This includes policy measures shifting dietary habits towards a diet with lesser environmental impact: more plant-based and less meat consumption. Meat production contributes to global warming. 

The organisation also emphasises the importance of “renaturalisation” as a proactive measure, while hunting in fire-affected areas and neighbouring areas should be permanently banned. 

Turning point: ‘Make choices now’ 

Leonardo Anselmi, Director of FFW for Southern Europe, stated: “We are at a crossroads: we can continue to heavily support the livestock sector, or opt for major dietary changes. It is clear that livestock farming has a significant impact on the planet due to its emissions and food inefficiency.” 

Habitat of 39 bird species threatened 

The devastating fire, according to nature organisation SEO/Birdlife, has also destroyed the habitat of 39 bird species and a protected natural area of significant ecological importance, including the Teide National Park. 

Also read: Tenerife has lost a third of its forest area due to wildfire 

Although it’s too early for definitive assessments since the fire is not fully extinguished, SEO/BirdLife, based on data from the European Union’s Copernicus EMS emergency satellite tracking system and their data, estimates that 39 different bird species linked to various habitats live in the fire-affected areas. 

These habitats primarily include Canarian pine forests, but also laurel forests. Moreover, many of these birds are species or subspecies unique to the island, the Canary Islands, or the Macaronesian region. 

Woodpeckers, hawks, and songbirds 

SEO/BirdLife highlights the cases of the great spotted woodpecker and birds of prey like the sparrowhawk. Songbirds like the blue tit and the Canarian and Tenerife finch are also threatened. The Tenerife finch, a species endemic to the island, could see its habitat drastically reduced. 

Owls and native pigeons 

Other potentially affected iconic birds are nocturnal raptors like the barn owl and the little owl, and species like the moorhen and endangered species such as the raven. The two native pigeons of the Canary Islands, the rabiche and the turqué, are also threatened. 

Affected natural areas 

Moreover, the fire affects areas of the Canarian Network of Protected Natural Areas, including the protected landscapes Siete Lomas, La Laguneta, and La Resbala, the nature reserves Las Palomas and Pinoleris, the natural park of the crown forest, and the Teide National Park. 

Some of these areas are part of the Natura 2000 network, the European ecological network of biodiversity conservation areas, especially the Special Conservation Zones (ZEC). 

Birds and fire 

Although birds usually do not die directly from fire, smoke exposure can affect their respiratory system, similar to humans. Flight attempts can lead to collisions and accidents, SEO/BirdLife notes. Furthermore, many bird species are at the end of their breeding season. This means young birds making their first flights may be less able to escape direct fire. 

In the medium to long term, the loss of habitats is concerning, given the pressure already on the protected areas. 

“In this context, we hope to study the development of bird populations both inside and outside the burned areas, to better understand the recolonisation process,” explains Yarci Acosta, representative of SEO/BirdLife in the Canary Islands. 

Also read: Tenerife wildfire is under control. 

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