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Australia: Bushfires under control in New South Wales for first time in six months | World News

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Bushfires across Australia’s most populous state have been contained for the first time in nearly six months.

Heavy rains helped firefighters and boosted some dam levels to their highest in nearly two years.

Australia has been battling hundreds of blazes since September in an unusually prolonged summer wildfire season that was fuelled by three years of drought, which experts have blamed on climate change.

Bushfires burn near the town of Bumbalong south of Canberra on February 1, 2020. - Authorities in Canberra on January 31, 2020 declared the first state of emergency in almost two decades as a bushfire bore down on the Australian capital. (Photo by PETER PARKS / AFP) (Photo by PETER PARKS/AFP via Getty Images)
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At their peak, the flames produced a firefront about 3,700 miles long

Helped by storms that lashed Australia’s east coast earlier this week, the New South Wales Rural Fire Service said 24 blazes remain alight across the state, though all of them are now under control.

“After what’s been a truly devastating fire season for both firefighters and residents who suffered through so much this season, all fires are now contained in New South Wales, which is great news,” Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers said.

The current situation is a far cry from the peak of the crisis in early January, when NSW firefighters were battling almost 150 fires that produced a fire front about 3,700 miles (6,000km) long.

Blazes across the country have razed nearly 29.7 million acres of tinder-dry bushland, killing 33 people and an estimated one billion native animals since September.

The fires destroyed thousands of homes and prompted mass evacuations of both locals and tourists during Australia’s peak summer holiday period.

As well as aiding firefighting efforts, the deluge of rains has boosted dam levels across New South Wales, which is home to more than seven million people.

Further rains are expected, with more than 50mm forecast to fall over the next five days.

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Red List: European hamsters, lemurs and North Atlantic right whales on the edge of extinction | World News

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European hamsters are on the brink of extinction and could vanish entirely within the next 30 years, according to conservationists.

The rodent, also known by its Latin name cricetus cricetus, has been named as a critically endangered species in latest listings from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Once a common sight across Europe and Russia, the hamster is said to have suffered severe population declines in recent years as females experienced reduced average birth rates from 20 pups each year to around five or six.

It is not currently known what has caused these changes to birth rates, but the IUCN says monoculture plantations, industrial development, global warming and light pollution are being looked into as possible reasons.

There are believed to be less than 250 North Atlantic right whales in existence
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There are believed to be less than 250 North Atlantic right whales in existence

The development has been particularly felt in the hamsters’ original habitat in Alsace, France, where it has vanished from more than three-quarters of the area.

In Germany, it has disappeared from a third of its usual area, and a further 75% of where it would have been found in Eastern Europe.

Dr Mikhail Rusin, an author of the new Red List assessment, said conservation efforts may have started to slow the population decline in some places, but it has so far “failed to reverse the trend”.

He added: “In addition to these measures, more research into the various possible drivers of the European hamster’s disappearance is urgently needed to save it from extinction.”

The warning from the IUCN on Thursday also highlighted dangers to other animals – including many subspecies of lemurs and the North Atlantic right whale, which have been listed as critically endangered.

Almost the entire species of lemurs are under threat
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Almost the entire species of lemurs are under threat

A third of lemurs, which live on the island nation of Madagascar, are at the highest risk of extinction – but almost the entire species is under threat.

This is thought to be due to their habitat being destroyed by agricultural expansion.

More than half of all primate species in Africa are now under threat, according to the IUCN, including 17 species of red colobus monkey.

IUCN acting director-general Dr Grethel Aguilar said the new listings expose “the true scale of threats faced by primates across Africa”.

She added: “It also shows that Homo sapiens needs to drastically change its relationship to other primates, and to nature as a whole.

“At the heart of this crisis is a dire need for alternative, sustainable livelihoods to replace the current reliance on deforestation and unsustainable use of wildlife.

“These findings really bring home the urgent need for an ambitious post-2020 biodiversity framework that drives effective conservation action.”

Caterpillar fungus is now under threat due to over-harvesting
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Caterpillar fungus is now under threat due to over-harvesting

For the North Atlantic right whale, there are believed to be less than 250 in existence.

Climate change has been touted as reason for guiding the whales into waters where they are more likely to encounter humans, where they have experienced troubles with entanglements with fishing equipment, being hit by boats, and lower reproduction rates.

The IUCN has assessed 120,372 species for its Red List, having put 32,441 in at least one of its three categories signifying the species is under threat.

Also on the list is the world’s most expensive fungus – the caterpillar fungus – which has a popular use in traditional Chinese medicine and has been given its vulnerable status due to over-harvesting.

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‘Political prosecution’: Donald Trump blasts Supreme Court ruling on his tax returns | US News

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Donald Trump’s tax returns can be seen by a New York prosecutor, the US Supreme Court has ruled.

The request to view the documents is part of a criminal investigation into alleged hush-money payments to women who claim they had affairs with the US president.

However in a separate ruling, Supreme Court justices said Mr Trump does not have to hand over his financial records to Congress, which has sought them for more than a year.

In response, the US president – who has strenuously sought to keep his financial records private – tweeted: “This is all political prosecution.”

US President Donald Trump sits with his arms crossed during a roundtable discussion on the Safe Reopening of Americas Schools during the coronavirus pandemic, in the East Room of the White House on July 7, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
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Mr Trump’s tax returns are held by the president’s longtime accounting firm Mazars USA

“I won the Mueller Witch Hunt, and others, and now I have to keep fighting in a politically corrupt New York,” he wrote.

“Not fair to this Presidency or Administration!”

He added: “Courts in the past have given ‘broad deference’. BUT NOT ME!”

In the New York case, Supreme Court judges rejected arguments by Mr Trump’s lawyers and the US Justice Department that the president is immune from investigation while he holds office, or that a prosecutor must show a greater need than normal to obtain the records.

The tax returns are held by the president’s longtime accounting firm, Mazars USA, which has said it would comply with a court order.

It is likely to be at least several weeks before the court issues a formal judgment that would trigger the turnover of the documents.

Because the grand jury process is confidential, the rulings make it unlikely any of Mr Trump’s financial records will become public soon.

Unlike other recent presidents, Mr Trump has refused to release his tax returns and other documents that could provide details on his wealth and the activities of his family real-estate company, the Trump Organisation.

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As part of a criminal investigation by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, court writs were issued to Mazars for financial records – including nearly a decade of Mr Trump’s tax returns – to be turned over to a grand jury in New York City.

The investigation launched in 2018 into Mr Trump and the Trump Organisation was spurred by claims of hush payments to two women who said they had past sexual relationships with him; adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

Mr Trump has denied having relationships with the women.

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said: “This is a tremendous victory for our nation’s system of justice and its founding principle that no one – not even a president – is above the law.”

The ruling on Congress’ request for Mr Trump’s financial returns the case to lower courts, with no clear prospect for when the case might ultimately be resolved.

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Toddler thrown from burning building caught by former American football player | US News

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Video footage shows the moment a toddler was caught by a former American football player after being thrown out of a burning building by his mother in Phoenix, Arizona.

The three-year-old boy was “twirling in the air like a propeller”, Phillip Blanks told ABC7 – adding that it was just “instinct” that led to him rushing out, barefoot, to help.

The 28-year-old ex-player said: “There wasn’t much thinking. I just reacted. I just did it.

Toddler saved from burning building
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Phillip Blanks said his instinct had led him to rush to help

“I just did my best. His head landed perfectly on my elbow. His ankle got twisted up as I was diving. The guy who was there with me – it looked like he wasn’t going to catch him. So that’s why I stepped in.

“I just wanted to make a better catch.”

The child’s mother, Rachel Long, 30, did not survive the fire; her other child, an eight-year-old girl, was taken to hospital, along with her younger brother, according to local reports.

Mr Blanks, a former US marine and wide receiver for Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, California, said their mother was “the real hero”, saying “she made the ultimate sacrifice to save her children”.

The fire started on the third floor of the building on the morning of 3 July, and several residents were evacuated before the fire department arrived, it is claimed.

Spokesman Captain Kenny Overton has been quoted as saying that no firefighters were hurt, but that an adult victim was taken to hospital with a leg injury.

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