Australia remains in the grip of unprecedented wildfires that have set the continent ablaze for months. The fires have killed 24 people, destroyed more than 15.5 million acres and burned 1,400 homes down. And, according to one estimation, they have killed a billion animals. [h/t Vox]
The fires began in September and were quickly exacerbated by the effects of climate change. Videos from Australia spread on social media, showing haunting images of koalas and kangaroos that have burned to death. And experts say many more animals that survived the fires themselves soon died from the destruction of their habitats. A biodiversity expert at the University of Sydney named Chris Dickman initially estimated that about 480 million animals had died in the fires.
But now Dickman is revising his estimate as the fires have continued to spread, and he says he believes the number is nearer one billion. “The original figure ― the 480 million ― was based on mammals, birds, and reptiles for which we do have densities, and that figure now is a little bit out of date. It’s over 800 million given the extent of the fires now ― in New South Wales alone,” he told HuffPo.
And when you throw in bats, frogs and invertebrates, Dickman says he believes that “over a billion would be a very conservative figure.” An environmental scientist at WWF Australia named Stuart Blanch said he agreed with Dickman’s math.
Fortunately, locals are pitching it to mitigate the destruction. Video circulated of one Kangaroo Island family that set-up a makeshift koala rescue operation. Koalas — naturally slow and unwilling to leave their vulnerable babies behind — are particularly vulnerable to wildfires.
Video from ABC News showed a similar operation in Adelaide, where a local school gym was transformed into a temporary shelter for injured koalas, complete with cozy blankets, medicine and all the eucalyptus they could want.
Local efforts notwithstanding, the crisis for Australian biodiversity is real. Australia is home to some of the planet’s most unique animals, many of which can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Deforestation and urban expansion has already put many of these species at risk over the last few decades (the University of Sydney states that “some 34 species and subspecies of native mammals have become extinct in Australia over the last 200 years, the highest rate of loss for any region in the world”, and now the fires put these animals further at risk.