Australia's Wildfires Could Wipe Entire Endangered Species Off the Planet

Some species were barely surviving in the wild before the fires burned their habitats to the ground.
January 7, 2020, 3:34pm
In this image made from video taken on Dec. 22, 2019, and provided by Oakbank Balhannah CFS, a koala drinks water from a bottle given by a firefighter in Cudlee Creek

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Roughly one billion animals, many of them endangered and already at risk, have now died in the Australian bushfires, experts have estimated.

Chris Dickman, an ecologist at the University of Sydney, updated his original estimate of 480 million in an interview with HuffPost, saying it was now at least 800 million — and that’s just for the state of New South Wales (NSW) and doesn’t include bats, frogs, and invertebrates.

“If 800 million sounds a lot ― it’s not all the animals in the firing line,” Dickman said in the article published Tuesday.

READ: Australians fear 'mega blaze' if 2 fires join forces: 'It's an atomic bomb'

Animals that were already critically endangered ― such as the bright yellow southern corroboree frog, the mountain pygmy possum (a small marsupial that sort of looks like a mouse), and the glossy black cockatoo ― could reportedly be wiped out completely by the fires.

Prior to the fires, there may have been fewer than 200 southern corroboree frogs, including 115 that were released in December to accompany the estimated 50 that were left in the wild. Also prior to the fires, there were an estimated 2,000-3,000 mountain pygmy-possum in the wild and some 370 glossy black cockatoos on Kangaroo Island, the main place the bird has survived.

The 100-mile-long Kangaroo Island, which is located just off mainland South Australia, is largely dedicated to conservation and has become a haven for species like koalas and the glossy black cockatoos. About one-third of the island has been scorched. Even if any of the birds managed to escape, they’ve still lost key survival areas.

“They have few places to nest and have lost their food supply. Their survival will depend on an intensive recovery effort,” Dr. Gabriel Crowley, a scientist who has worked on the cockatoo conversation project for two decades, told the Guardian.

The fires have likely endangered animals that weren’t previously on the brink.

“We will have taken many species that weren’t threatened close to extinction, if not to extinction,” Kingsley Dixon, an ecologist and botanist at Curtin University, in Perth, told the New York Times.

Graphic videos and photos from Australia show countless dead animals that were caught up in the fires and smoke. Agriculture market analysis company Mecardo estimated there were 8.6 million sheep and 2.3 million cattle in the areas affected by fire.

Even an iconic Australian animals like the koala could face a tough road ahead.

READ: 'No way in or out': Australians are fleeing to the beach to escape deadly wildfires

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that up to 30% of the koalas in the region could’ve been killed because “up to 30% of their habitat has been destroyed.”

“We’ll know more when the fires are calmed down and a proper assessment can be made,” she said around Christmastime.

Blazes in NSW and Victoria both grew over the weekend as temperatures climbed and winds picked up. At least two dozen people have been killed, while about 12 million acres — an area larger than Switzerland — have been burned.

Rain provided temporary reprieve on Monday but didn’t put the fires out. It’s expected the blazes will grow again when weather conditions worsen later this week.

Cover: In this image made from video taken on Dec. 22, 2019, and provided by Oakbank Balhannah CFS, a koala drinks water from a bottle given by a firefighter in Cudlee Creek, South Australia. Thousands of koalas are feared to have died in a wildfire-ravaged area north of Sydney, further diminishing Australia's iconic marsupial, while the fire danger accelerated Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019 in the country’s east as temperatures soared. (Oakbank Balhannah CFS via AP, File)