Millions of animals dying from the Australian fires

Millions of animals are dying from the Australian fires, and the environment will suffer for years to come

AUSTRALIA (CNN) – In a sad, grim video posted on Twitter, a man drives into the fire-ravaged town of Batlow, in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW). Both sides of the road are covered with ash and lingering smoke. They’re also littered with the charred remains of animals killed in wildfires that have ripped through the region.

The blazes, which have been burning across Australia for months, have razed homes and wiped out entire towns. Across Australia, nearly 18 million acres of land have been burned — much of it bushland, forests and national parks, home to the country’s beloved and unique wildlife. Volunteers around the world are sewing pouches for Australias orphaned or injured kangaroos, koalas and bats

Volunteers around the world are sewing pouches for Australia’s orphaned or injured kangaroos, koalas and bats

Nearly half a billion animals have been impacted by the fires in NSW alone, with millions potentially dead, according to ecologists at the University of Sydney. That figure includes birds, reptiles, and mammals, except bats. It also excludes insects and frogs — meaning the true number is likely much higher.

The total number of animals affected nationwide could be as high as a billion, according to Christopher Dickman, the University of Sydney ecologist who led the report.

Fires are nothing new in Australia, but they have been growing more intense and becoming more destructive in recent years, a problem that has been exacerbated by climate change.

Australia fires. “3D visualization” of the Australian fires by Anthony Hearsey, “an image maker who specialises in photography, retouching and creative imaging,”

Animals have been on the front lines — Australia has the highest rate of species loss of any area in the world, and researchers fear that rate could increase as the fire disaster continues.

“The scale of these fires is unprecedented,” said Dieter Hochuli, an environmental sciences professor at the University of Sydney. “There are substantial concerns about the capacity of these (ecosystems) to rebound from the fires.”

Some animals, like koalas and kangaroos, are primarily killed directly by the fires — for instance, by being incinerated in flames or choking on smoke. Nearly a third of all koalas in NSW have died and about a third of their habitat has been destroyed, federal environment minister Sussan Ley said.

Photos from the ground show koalas with singed fur, raw patches of burnt flesh, and blistered paws. Even if they are rescued and treated, sometimes their injuries are simply too extensive to survive.

Other species don’t die from the flames or smoke, but instead from the fire’s aftermath. Smaller mammals and reptiles can escape the blazes by burrowing underground or hiding in rocks — but afterward, there is no food or shelter left, only certain predators that are drawn to fire because they know it brings easy prey.

Sometimes, even if a habitat heals, the animals don’t come back. In 1993, a fire in NSW’s Royal National Park wiped out the greater gliders — a type of lemur-like gliding marsupial — that lived there.

It’s not that animals are unprepared for natural disasters — they’ve been dealing with fires for millennia. But human interference has changed everything.

Perhaps the most devastating human factor has been the climate crisis, which experts say has made natural disasters go from bad to worse. Australia is experiencing one of its most severe droughts in decades, and a heatwave in December broke the record for highest nationwide average temperature, with some places sweltering under temperatures well above 40 degrees Celsius (about 113-120 degrees Fahrenheit).

But some fear that unless authorities take decisive long-term action on climate change and animal conservation, the country’s wildlife and environment could face a dire future. Australia has more than 300 native species — and about 81% of them are only found in the country. If they are wiped out here, these rare animals could be gone for good.

 

The Yucatan Times
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