BATS are dropping from trees, kangaroos are collapsing in the outback and gardens are turning brown.

While North America freezes under record polar temperatures, the southern hemisphere is experiencing the opposite extreme as heat records are being set in Australia after the hottest year ever.

Weather forecasters said some parts of the sparsely populated Pilbara region along the rugged north-west coast today were approaching 50ÚC (122ÚF). The record high of 50.7ÚC (123.3ÚF) was set in 1960 in Oodnadatta, South Australia.

Brazil is also sizzling, with the heat index reaching 49ÚC (120ÚF).

Zookeepers in Rio de Janeiro were giving animals ice pops to beat the heat.

The late arrival of the monsoon in northern Australia, which has a cooling effect, is contributing to the searing heat, said Karly Braganza, the manager of climate monitoring at the Bureau of Meteorology. Global warming also is playing a role, he said.

Since December 27, record temperatures have been set at 34 locations across Australia. In Winton, parrots, kangaroos and emus have been found dead.