For 9 months (June 2019 to February 2020), bushfires raged across Australia destroying precious habitat and claiming countless lives. The original estimate was over 1 billion animals harmed, but new research reveals the actual number is three times higher.
Heartbreaking stories popped up everywhere of koalas, kangaroos, and other animals trapped in the catastrophic fires. Although many heroes came forward to help rescue animals in need, thousands of koalas died in the fires and experts say many animals are still at risk due to lack of food and destroyed habitat.
World Wildlife Fund (WWF) teamed up with scientists from local universities to comb over 28.3 million acres of scorched land to discover the true impact the fires had on wildlife. They discovered the bushfires actually harmed nearly 3 billion animals.
143 million mammals, 2.46 billion reptiles, 180 million birds, and 51 million frogs were killed or harmed. “It’s hard to think of another event anywhere in the world in living memory that has killed or displaced that many animals,” said WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman. “This ranks as one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history.”
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Professor Chris Dickman of the University of Sydney, who oversaw the study, said, “When you think about nearly three billion native animals being in the path of the fires it is absolutely huge, it’s a difficult number to comprehend.”
The bushfires were fueled by drought conditions and increased temperatures caused by climate change. O’Gorman said the research “gives other countries a window into the future of mega-fires and their devastating impact on wildlife.”
WWF warns that if changes aren’t made immediately to curb climate change more mega-fires will occur and continue to deplete native biodiversity.
“How quickly can we decarbonise? How quickly can we stop our manic land clearing? We land clear at a rate that’s one of the highest in the world,” states Professor Dickman.
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