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Sunday, January 5, 2020

More Than 20,000 Koalas Are Wiped Out In Kangaroo Island

Koala, Kangaroo Island, Australia bushfire

Rescuers are frantically searching Kangaroo Island for injured animals amid fears over half of its 50,000 koala population perished in Friday's devastating bushfire.

Thousands of charred bodies of native animals were littered across the West End Highway, including wallabies and koalas, after the animals tried to escape the inferno at Flinders Chase National Park.

Sam Mitchell, Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park co-owner, said his team is rescuing survivors as quickly as possible ahead of worsening conditions in the coming days.

Koala, Kangaroo Island, Australia bushfire

Koala, Kangaroo Island, Australia bushfire

'There is no food left, for those (animals) who didn't perish in the fire, a lot of them will starve to death,' he told The Advertiser.

Mr Mitchell said the island has 'gone from one extreme to the other', recalling suggestions the island's koalas should be culled in past years.

'People would talk about koalas being a pest species … but now there are a lot of koalas (which) perished in the fires,' he said.

Mr Mitchell said it could take years for the native wildlife to recover.

Koala, Kangaroo Island, Australia bushfire

A GoFundMe page set up to treat injured animals in the park has raised over $155,000.

Fireman Rick Fisher said many of the survivors were orphaned infants who approached him looking for comfort.

Several had to be put down because serious injuries, either burns or respiratory.

Mr Fisher said he watched as the flames tore through nearby plantations.

'You can only find the injured koalas on the edge of the plantation, All the ones inside the ground would have been killed instantly,' he said.

Meanwhile, a total fire ban has been declared across Kangaroo Island as Country Fire Service crews race to quell areas still burning ahead of deteriorating conditions this week.

Cooler weather and some rain across the fireground on Saturday and Sunday brought some relief with the focus of locals shifting towards damage assessment and recovery.

But authorities imposed the fire ban for Monday as temperatures across SA were forecast to push into the mid to high 30s by Wednesday.

A bushfire advice remains in place for the western half of the island with the eastern edge of the fireground extending from the north to the south coast

More than 155,000 hectares have been burnt within a 300-kilometre perimeter, including large parts of the Flinders Chase National Park, with many homes, farms and other buildings lost along with tourism and service infrastructure.

Two lives have also been lost with outback pilot Dick Lang, 78, and his 43-year-old son Clayton Lang killed when their car became trapped by flames near Parndana.

Among those properties extensively damaged were the luxury Southern Ocean Lodge, on the west coast, and the Western Districts Football and Netball Clubs.

Also damaged was the Middle River Water Treatment Plant prompting SA Water to urge island residents to limit non-essential water use.

The plant was used to supply Kingscote, Parndana and surrounding areas with water now being drawn from the Penneshaw Desalination Plant.

About 600 properties remain without power, with SA Power Networks working to restore services.

Koala, Kangaroo Island, Australia bushfire

Koala, Kangaroo Island, Australia bushfire

The CFS said on Sunday that while conditions across the island had eased the danger was not over.

'There are still patches of active fire along the edge, especially in the area around Stokes Bay,' the CFS said.

'Residents need to stay alert for new fires in their area. There is the potential for flare-ups as winds pick up in the afternoon and the risk will increase later in the week with warmer, windier weather.'

Water-bombing aircraft will continue to work across the fire zone in coming days as ground crews deal with any new fires and conduct mopping-up operations.

About 80 Australian Defence Force personnel have also arrived on the island as the state government appointed wildlife official Mike Williams to lead the recovery.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service senior executive was named the local recovery coordinator to support islanders as they come to grips with their needs over the coming weeks and months.

'This is an unprecedented tragedy for the Kangaroo Island community, who are now facing a recovery effort on a scale never seen before on the island,' SA Human Services Minister Michelle Lensink said.

Koala, Kangaroo Island, Australia bushfire

Koala, Kangaroo Island, Australia bushfire

'His appointment recognises the unique challenges facing Kangaroo Island as it embarks on the process of recovery, including geographic isolation, losses relative to population, impacts on local economic activity and community wellbeing.'

Residents impacted by the blaze can also access hardship payments of $280 for each adult and up to $700 for a family to help with their immediate needs including clothing and medicine.

[ By Mail Online ]

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