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Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Half a Billion Animals Perish in Australian Bushfires

koala, Australian bush fire

There are real concerns entire species of plants and animals have been wiped out by bushfires following revelations almost 500 million animals have died since the crisis began.

Ecologists from the University of Sydney now estimate 480 million mammals, birds and reptiles have been lost since September.

That figure is likely to soar following the devastating fires which have ripped through Victoria and the NSW South Coast over the past couple of days, leaving several people dead or unaccounted for, razing scores of homes and leaving thousands stranded.

Australian Bushfires

This morning more than 130 fires were raging across NSW and Victoria, with millions of hectares of national park already burnt.

Harrowing scenes of kangaroos fleeing walls of fire, charred bodies of koalas and cockatoos falling dead out of trees have horrified the world as it tries to take in the scale of the unfolding disaster.

Koalas have been among the hardest hit of Australia’s native animals because they are slow moving and only eat leaves from the eucalyptus tree, which are filled with oil, making them highly flammable.

kangaroo, australia bushfire

koala, australia bushfire

koala, australia bushfire

Up to 8000 — a third of the entire koala population of the NSW mid-north coast — are believed to have been killed in less than four months.

There are significant koala populations in others states affected by fire — such as Victoria and South Australia — but no figures yet on how many have been lost.

“The fires have burned so hot and so fast that there has been significant mortality of animals in the trees, but there is such a big area now that is still on fire and still burning that we will probably never find the bodies,” Nature Conservation Council ecologist Mark Graham told parliament.

“(Koalas) really have no capacity to move fast enough to get away” as the flames jumped from treetop to treetop, he said.

Mr Graham was addressing the NSW upper house inquiry, which last month held an urgent hearing into the state’s koala population in the wake of the wake of “unprecedented” destruction.

 Australian Bushfires, parrot

 Australian Bushfires, koala

Science for Wildlife executive director Dr Kellie Leigh told the hearing there were no resources or planning in place to save koala populations threatened by fire in the Blue Mountains.

“We’re getting a lot of lessons out of this and it’s just showing how unprepared we are,” Dr Leigh said.

“There’s no procedures or protocols in place — even wildlife carers don’t have protocols for when they can go in after fire.”

kangaroo, australia bushfire

koala, australia bushfire

Stand Up for Nature, an alliance of 13 organisations, is calling for an immediate halt on logging of native forests in NSW until the impacts of the catastrophic bushfires on species and habitat are understood.

“The impact on many species has been extreme and is ongoing. The full scale of wildlife losses will probably never be known, but they will surely number in the millions,” it warned in a letter to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

“The effects of the catastrophic fires have been so far-reaching that allowing further loss of habitat and impact on native species would be unconscionable.

“Without this information, the sustainability of harvesting operations cannot be guaranteed.

“These unprecedented fires have jeopardised the long-term viability of threatened species populations and forest ecosystems in several areas.”

The alliance acknowledged a moratorium could have impacts on native forest timber industry workers and their communities.

“We therefore call on the government to ensure logging industry workers are supported during this process, either with alternative employment options, financial assistance or other worthwhile alternatives. We stand ready to engage constructively with the industry and government to achieve this goal.”

Environment Minister Sussan Ley said true animal death figures would not be known until “the fires have calmed down and a proper assessment can be made”.

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