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As wildfires continue to rage, hundreds of millions of Australian wild animals feared dead

Australia’s Green Party is calling for more funding for wildlife rescues and a federal inquiry into how to restore habitats.

Image: AAP/PA Images

WARNING: Readers may find images in this article upsetting.

SHOCKING AND UPSETTING images of the devastation Australia’s bushfire is wreaking on its native wildlife are continuing to emerge. 

A burnt wombat was filmed recently searching for food on a road near Kulnura in New South Wales (NSW) as the unprecedented, drought-fuelled bushfires continue to rage.

Michael Richardson filmed the marsupial after helping it to some water and described the scene as “heartbreaking”.

It is believed that some half a billion wild animals have been killed in Australia’s wildfires since they began in September, with more than 60,000 kilometres of land burnt across the country. 

Professor Chris Dickman, from the University of Sydney, has estimated 480 million animals have been killed since the bushfires began in New South Wales alone – but adds “the true loss of animal life is likely to be much higher”.

“Many of the affected animals are likely to have been killed directly by the fires, with others succumbing later due to the depletion of food and shelter resources and predation from introduced feral cats and red foxes,” Dickman said. 

This death toll includes koalas, kangaroos, wallabies, kookaburras, cockatoos and honeyeaters with many thousands more injured and homeless. 

The figure is based on a study for the World Wild Fund for Nature on the impacts of land clearing on Australian wildlife in New South Wales (NSW) to calculate the impacts of land clearing on the State’s wildlife.

The authors of the study obtained estimates of mammal population density in NSW and then multiplied the density estimates by the areas of vegetation approved to be cleared. The university said in a statement that highly conservative estimates were deliberately made in making their calculations.

The true mortality rate of the wildfires is estimated to be much higher as Dickman’s estimate looks solely at NSW. 

Deceased animals including kangaroos and koalas have been seen littering roadsides, with one video clip from Batlow, New South Wales, showing hundreds. Some may find distressing.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

While bushfires are common in Australia’s arid summers, climate change has pushed up land and sea temperatures and led to more extremely hot days and severe fire seasons.

The fires have been raging since September – months earlier than is typical for Australia’s annual wildfire season.

The continent has warmed by approximately 1.0 Celsius since 1910. January to November last year were the second-driest on record since 1902, and the hottest on record, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

australia-wildfires Source: AP/PA Images

AUS climate change Australia has been getting warmer, graph shows the annual mean temperature. Source: Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology

A third of the country’s Koala population is feared to be among the estimated millions of  animals killed so far. 

Wildlife rescue organisation WIRES said its volunteers are rescuing and caring for many species including koalas “who have been so terribly impacted not just by these fires but by habitat loss which leads them to be exposed to many threats”.

“Words being used to describe these fires are unprecedented and ferocious both are accurate. We have lost countless precious lives in these fires and many more are likely to die of their injuries and starvation,” WIRES NSW Koala Coordinator Vickii Lett said. 

“As carers with our veterinarians, we do our best to care for the injured and displaced wildlife and hope to return them to their forest home. We wait to see how our forests recover over time. It is all so fragile and if not valued easily lost.”

kangaroo-island-bushfires Adelaide wildlife rescuer Simon Adamczyk is seen with koala rescued at a burning forest near Cape Borda on Kangaroo Island, Source: AAP/PA Images

Last month, the rescue received over 20,000 calls and volunteers attended over 3,300 rescues for sick, injured and orphaned wildlife.

At least half of Australia’s only disease-free koala population, seen as key to the species’ future, is feared dead after bushfires swept through an island sanctuary.

Kangaroo Island, a popular attraction off the coast of south Australia, is home to many wild populations of native animals, including around 50,000 koala. The Kangaroo Island koala species is particularly important to the survival of the wider population as it is the only large group free from chlamydia.

The bacterial infection, which causes blindness, infertility and death in the species, is widespread in koalas in the eastern Queensland and New South Wales states and also occurs in Victoria state. The koalas cannot be removed from the island due to their chlamydia-free status, the state government said, adding that veterinarians were rescuing and treating the injured animals on-site.

kangaroo-island-bushfires A dead Koala and its joey are seen after bushfires swept through on Kangaroo Island, southwest of Adelaide, Source: AAP/PA Images

The Insurance Council of Australia estimates the damage bill of the wildfires has skyrocketed, with insurance claims reaching $700 million.

That estimate comes one day after Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government was committing an extra $2 billion toward the recovery effort in addition to the tens of millions of dollars that have already been promised.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Australia’s Green Party is calling for more funding for wildlife rescues and a federal inquiry into how to restore habitats. 

“These fires have killed unprecedented numbers of animals, pushing some species to the brink. I’d like to see the federal government commit to an independent inquiry into how many animals have been killed and actions to restore the viability of native species in bushfire affected areas,” Greens Senator for New South Wales Mehreen Faruqi told the paper. 

A response from the Australian government on its plan for the care and rehabilitation of injured wildlife is expected in the coming days. 

- With reporting from PA

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Adam Daly

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