Australia's Unique Wildlife Suffers From Bushfire Crisis

Some of the grimmest images coming out of the devastating bushfires sweeping Australia depict the monstrous loss of wildlife with estimates putting the loss at well over half a billion animals lost.

One widely circulated report from the University of Sydney estimates that 480 million animals have been affected since bushfires in NSW started in September 2019.

A statement from the University of Sydney’s Professor Chris Dickman outlines how he arrived at this number which is based on a 2007 report for the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) 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 statement claims authors obtained estimates of mammal population density in NSW and then multiplied the density estimates by the areas of vegetation approved to be cleared.

Estimates of density were obtained from published studies of mammals in NSW and from studies carried out in other parts of Australia in similar habitats to those present in NSW.

The authors deliberately employed highly conservative estimates in making their calculations. The true mortality is likely to be substantially higher than those estimated.

Using that formula, co-author of the original report Professor Chris Dickman estimates that 480 million animals have been affected since the bushfires in NSW started in September 2019. This figure only relates to the state of NSW.

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.

The figure includes mammals, birds and reptiles and does not include insects, bats or frogs.

Professor Dickman points out some 34 species and subspecies of native mammals have become extinct in Australia over the last 200 years, the highest rate of loss for any region in the world.

Adding to the destruction to wildlife populations is the huge loss of livestock across the nation with harrowing pictures of bloated carcasses of sheep and cattle being broadcast internationally.

According to the Victorian state government there have been tens of thousands of livestock lost in that state alone while the NSW Department of Primary Industries suggests thousands have also been lost in that state.

Dead livestock near Batlow, NSW.
Image Credit: ABC News: Matt Roberts)

The numbers in South Australia are equally devastating with close to 6000 animals lost in the Cudlee Creek fire alone.

Furthermore, in South Australia the damage wrought on local wildlife and livestock on Kangaroo Island where the iconic Southern Ocean Lodge was completely destroyed and a father and son tragically lost their lives, experts predict 1000s of animals have been killed.

The island often referred to as the Australian Galapagos where the unique kangaroos have been referred to as majestic as lions on the Serengeti may have lost up to half of its koala population alone.

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall said in a statement, “We are only beginning to come to terms with the scale of destruction of the fires on Kangaroo Island. Tragically, it has been confirmed that two lives have been lost.
“More than 100,000 hectares of land has been affected by the fires.”

How you can donate to our wildife?

WIRES: NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service (WIRES) rescues and cares for animals and is taking donations for volunteer carers and recuers that are “indundated” with hurt wildlife amid the bushfires. Alternately you can become a voulnteer.

The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital The organisation has a GoFundMe page that seeks funding for Koalas affected by the bushfires.

The Rescue Collective Bush Fire appeal, supports animal rescue, wildlife organizations and their volunteers across the East Coast of Australia

WWF Bushfire Emergency: help WWF-Australia get emergency funds to care for injured wildlife, and when the fires clear, help restore homes for koalas and other animals that has been lost.


Lead Image: Image of koala and firefighter supplied by Eden Valley Country Fire Service. South Australia. 
Image Credit: Eden Valley Country Fire Service.

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