Australia can be affected by wildfires throughout the entire year. Yet, this year, the dry weather, the record-breaking heat, and windy conditions have contributed to an earlier start of the fire season, and the flames keep spreading since September.
The historic bushfires are feared to have killed nearly half a billion animals, including almost a third of koalas in their main habitat in New South Wales (NSW).
Ecologists from the University of Sydney believe that the devastating fires have, directly or indirectly, caused the death of roughly 480 million mammals, birds, and reptiles.
This number also involves about 8,000 koalas that were burnt to death along the mid-north coast of Australia.
Federal environment minister Sussan Ley said that up to a third of koalas in the area have been killed, which is equal to the destroyed amount of their habitat, about 12.35 million acres.
She added that once the fires are calmed down, they can make a more accurate assessment of the damage.
Koalas have been especially endangered by the fires, since, as ecologist Mark Graham of the Nature Conservation Council explained, they “really have no capacity to move fast enough to get away” from the massive bushfires.
“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.
We’ve lost such a massive swathe of known koala habitat that I think we can say without any doubt there will be ongoing declines in koala populations from this point forward.”
Currently, more than a hundred fires are raging across the country, and with volunteer firefighters are working hard to reduce damage and rescue koalas.
The flames have destroyed millions of acres of land, including 8.9 million acres of land in New South Wales, 2.9 million acres in Western Australia, 1.9 million acres in Victoria, at least 618,000 acres in Queensland, and more than 225,000 acres in South Australia.
The kind-hearted staff at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital spent Christmas Day helping 72 wounded and seriously burnt koalas. The hospital’s GoFundMe page has received over $1.4 million (AUD 2.175 million) since September.
Yet, associate Professor Dieter Hochuli from the University of Sydney reminded that it is not just the popular species like koalas and kangaroos at risk.
It is believed that rare plant species have disappeared completely as well, and insects that are crucial for pollination and nutrient cycling also suffered massive losses.
“Fire is a natural part of Australian ecosystems and many of our plants and animals are adapted to it. However, changes to the frequency and intensity of fires can have a massive impact on wildlife. We know that risk of extinction increases exponentially as populations decline to low numbers so this raises significant concerns for their future.”
The alarming state of the affected area and the wildlife that lives within it has concerned environmental activists, including Stand Up for Nature, an alliance of 13 organizations.
Stand up for Nature wrote a letter to New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, that read:
“These unprecedented fires have jeopardized the long-term viability of threatened species populations and forest ecosystems in several areas.
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.”
Yet, the government has been accused of avoiding taking action on climate change, and obstructing summits on the issue, while Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been criticized by the public for taking his pre-Christmas vacation in Hawaii during these grave times for the country, resulting in the trending hashtag #WhereTheBloodyHellAreYou.
Sydney Mayor Clover Moore stated:
“As the driest continent on Earth, we’re at the forefront of accelerating global warming. What is happening is a wake-up call for our governments to start making effective contributions to reducing global emissions… It’s our national governments that are failing us.”
Scomo hulas while Australia burns. My cartoon in the Fin @FinancialReview this morning. pic.twitter.com/rHXxF34c9r
— Peter Nicholson (@NiCartoons) December 17, 2019