Koalas have been among the hardest hit of Australia’s native animals
As bushfires continue to rage across Australia, experts fear that the country’s unique wildlife is suffering a disastrous blow.
Around 480 million animals are feared to have died in the bushfires sweeping Australia, including nearly a third of the koalas in New South Wales's main habitat.
Ecologists at the University of Sydney estimate around 480 million mammals, birds and reptiles have been killed, directly or indirectly, by the devastating blazes since they began in September, 2019, The Times reports.
This includes almost 8,000 koalas – almost a third of the New South Wales koala population – which have perished along the country’s eastern coast. The region, which lies around 240 miles north of Sydney, is home to the largest number of Australia’s koalas, with a population of up to 28,000.
That figure is likely to soar following the devastating fires which have ripped through Victoria and the southern coast of New South Wales over the past couple of days, leaving several people dead or unaccounted for, razing scores of homes and leaving thousands stranded.
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.
Volunteers with wildlife rescue organizations are also seeing significant numbers of other species struggling to escape the flames, including kangaroos, possums, and quolls.
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.
Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley told Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), “up to 30% of the population in that region may have been killed, because around 30% of their habitat has been destroyed.”
“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,” Mark Graham, an ecologist with the Nature Conservation Council, told a parliamentary inquiry, quoted The Guardian.
Stand Up for Nature, an alliance of 13 organizations, is calling for an immediate halt on logging of native forests in New South Wales 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 New South Wales 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 jeopardized the long-term viability of threatened species populations and forest ecosystems in several areas.”