SYDNEY - More than 1 billion animals have been killed in bushfires in the Australian state of New South Wales, according to leading wildlife experts.
Bushfires have had a terrible impact on Australia. Lives have been lost, thousands of homes destroyed and vast areas of land incinerated. The disaster has also had catastrophic consequences for animals. Images of badly burned koalas, Australia’s famous furry marsupials, have come to define the severity of the fire emergency.
The University of Sydney has estimated that more than 1 billion mammals, birds and reptiles, as well as “hundreds of billions” of insects have died in the fires. Experts have warned that “for some species we are looking at imminent extinction.”
They also fear that animals that have survived the fires by fleeing or seeking safety underground will return to areas that will not have the food, water or shelter to support them.
Saving the zoo animals
At zoos and wildlife reserves, staff risked their lives protecting the animals in their care.
As fires tore through the town of Mogo on the New South Wales south coast on New Year’s Eve, there were grave fears for the animals at the local zoo. Remarkably, they all survived, but the property is badly damaged.
Chad Staples, the head keeper, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation about his decision to stay to fight the flames.
“We have a lot of damaged fences,” he said. “The good thing is that we saved every single animal, there is no injuries, there’s no sickness. We had to stay here and protect them. We knew that this was the best place that we, if we worked hard, could make this a safe place. But, yeah, of course, I think everyone, at [a] different point, was scared out of their wits.”
Farm animals perish
Tens of thousands of farm animals also have likely died in the bushfire disaster.
Farmers have been forced to euthanize injured stock. The losses could run into the millions of dollars.
Only when the fires clear will Australia be able to more accurately assess the full extent of the damage on livestock and wildlife.
Dozens of fires continue to burn across several Australian states.