Nearly 3 Billion Animals Died Or Were Displaced During Australia’s Bushfires
Nearly three billion animals were killed or displaced throughout Australia’s catastrophic bushfires, now dubbed ‘one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history’.
From the second half of 2019 to the start of this year, Down Under was burning. Across each state, there were more than 15,000 wildfires, making it the worst season on record. More than 27 million hectares of bush, forest and other land were reduced to ashes.
In the months of recovery, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has been compiling a report, titled Australia’s 2019-2020 Bushfires: The Wildlife Toll – and the numbers are utterly harrowing.
An earlier estimate placed the wildlife death toll at more than a billion, however the recent findings have seen the figure increase almost three-fold.
As per the WWF’s interim report, 143 million mammals, 2.46 billion reptiles, 180 million birds, and 51 million frogs were displaced or perished during the bushfires. An earlier report by the International Fund for Animal Welfare also estimated that a minimum of 5,000 koalas were killed.
The results are still being finalised, however it’s unlikely that the three-billion figure will change.
WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman said: ‘The interim findings are shocking. It’s hard to think of another event anywhere in the world in living memory that has killed or displaced that many animals. This ranks as one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history.’
The University of Sydney’s Dr Lily Van Eeden and Professor Chris Dickman are leading the research, alongside collaborators from the University of New South Wales, University of Newcastle, Charles Sturt University and BirdLife Australia.
Dickman explained that while it’s hard to calculate the exact number of animals that died, their survival prospects weren’t particularly positive with so much of their habitat and food destroyed. ‘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,’ he said.
WWF’s initial billion-strong estimate was calculated off the impact on New South Wales and Victoria, rather than the whole country. For this report, researchers looked at 11.46 million hectares of land.
With extreme fires increasing across the world due to climate change, O’Gorman was keen to note that these findings could be used to ‘give other countries a window into the future of mega-fires and their devastating impact on wildlife’.
O’Gorman added: ‘We believe a continent-wide assessment of the number of animals that might be impacted has never been done in Australia before or anywhere else in the world. Other nations can build upon this research to improve understanding of bushfire impacts everywhere.’
It’s hoped the figures will be finalised in time for the upcoming review of Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.
O’Gorman said: ‘Strengthening this law has never been more important. WWF will continue to advocate for policies that benefit both people and nature, restore what has been lost, and ensure we build back a more resilient Australia.’
The report is set to be completed by the end of August.
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