Half a billion animals including 8,000 koalas feared dead in devastating Australian bushfires
This is due to a combination of factors, including their slow-moving nature, and the fact that the eucalyptus leaves they thrive on are highly flammable.
In what has been the worst bushfire season in Australia in recent memory, experts fear that as many as half a billion animals have perished in the incessant flames raging across multiple states in the country.
With more than 130 fires currently burning across New South Wales and Victoria and showing no signs of stopping, ecologists from the University of Sydney revealed to news.com.au that 480 million mammals, birds, and reptiles had perished already.
Amongst the 480 million animals are 8,000 koalas, which experts said were the hardest hit out of all of Australia's native animals because of a combination of factors, including their slow-moving nature, and the fact that the eucalyptus leaves they thrive on are highly flammable.
That number represents a third of the entire koala population of the NSW mid-north coast and is only expected rise over the coming weeks as the fires are expected to get even worse.
Koala populations have been significantly affected in the other states affected by the fire, such as Victoria and South Australia, as well, though there are still no official figures to determine how bad the outlook is as of yet.
Speaking in the parliament during an urgent hearing into the fire's "unprecedented" destruction and impact on NSW's koala population, Nature Conservation Council ecologist Mark Graham had explained that the animals "have no capacity to move fast enough to get away" as the flames jumped from treetop to treetop.
"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," he added.
'Science for Wildlife' executive director Dr Kellie Leigh also spoke at the hearing and said there were no resources or planning in place to save the koala populations that had been threatened by the fires.
"We’re getting a lot of lessons out of this and it’s just showing how unprepared we are," Leigh said. "There’s no procedures or protocols in place — even wildlife carers don’t have protocols for when they can go in after fire."
More than 14.7 million acres of land have been razed by the fires so far, 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 land burned represents an area larger than the countries of Belgium and Haiti combined.
The fires have also claimed 18 lives, and with strong winds and high temperatures predicted for the coming week, it could get worse.