ABSTRACT

A mortality event of nine threatened smoky mice (Pseudomys fumeus) occurred in January 2020 at a captive breeding facility in southeastern Australia that was affected at the time by hazardous levels of bushfire smoke, despite being more than 20 km from the nearest fire. Pathologic and clinical observations indicated smoke inhalation was the cause of death. All animals had significant pulmonary lesions, notably pulmonary edema and congestion, and moderate amounts of dark brown to black pigmented intracellular and extracellular particles from <0.5–2.5 μm in diameter were observed in the central or hilar region of the lungs of four of six animals examined histologically. Deaths occurred between three and 30 days after exposure to smoke and, for seven animals in outdoor acclimatization enclosures, were associated with very high ambient temperature (>40 C). Similar mortalities did not occur in collocated parrots, suggesting differing species sensitivity to smoke inhalation. Our findings highlight the potential for smoke to be an underdiagnosed cause of mortality in free-ranging wildlife during bushfires and for bushfires to affect wildlife populations outside of burnt areas, including in unburnt refugia. Conservation interventions for wildlife after bushfires should consider and, where possible, mitigate the risk of animals dying due to increased respiratory demand following smoke inhalation injury.

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