Some estimates suggest as many as a billion animals, including livestock and domestic pets, have either died in the blazes or are at risk in their aftermath due to a lack of food and shelter.
Melbourne – The Australian government
committed A$50 million to an emergency wildlife recovery program
on Monday, calling the bushfires crisis engulfing the country
“an ecological disaster” that threatens several species,
including koalas and rock wallabies.
Huge wildfires have razed more than 11.2 million hectares
(27.7 million acres), nearly half the area of the United
Kingdom, destroying or severely damaging the habitats of several
Some estimates suggest as many as a billion animals,
including livestock and domestic pets, have either died in the
blazes or are at risk in their aftermath due to a lack of food
“This has been an ecological disaster, a disaster that is
still unfolding,” Treasurer Frydenberg told reporters on Monday
as he visited the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, where 45 koalas
were being treated for burns.
“We know that our native flora and fauna have been very
Images of burned kangaroos, koalas and possums, along with
footage of people risking their lives to save native animals
have gone viral around the world. Knitters around the world have
responded to a call to create thousands of protective pouches
and blankets for injured wildlife.
The Australian division of the Worldwide Fund for Nature
(WWF) has advised the government of 13 animals whose habitats
have been either destroyed or severely damaged. They include
three critically endangered species: the southern corroboree
frog, the regent honeyeater bird and the western ground parrot.
“Huge proportions of globally significant areas like the
Gondwana Rainforestand Blue Mountains World Heritage Areas along
with the Australian Alps and Western Australia’s Stirling Ranges
have suffered catastrophic burns,” WWF said in an emailed
Other animals at risk include koala populations across the
southeast, the Kangaroo Island dunnart, glossy black cockatoo,
long-footed potoroo, western ground parrot, Blue Mountains water
skink, eastern bristlebird and the brush-tailed rock wallaby.
In a mission dubbed Operation Rock Wallaby, national park
staff used helicopters to air drop thousands of kilos of carrots
and sweet potatoes to brush-tailed rock wallabies in remote
areas of New South Wales state.
“The provision of supplementary food is one of the key
strategies we are deploying to promote the survival and recovery
of endangered species like the brush-tailed rock wallaby,” NSW
environment minister Matt Kean said.
“The wallabies typically survive the fire itself, but are
then left stranded with limited natural food as the fire takes
out the vegetation around their rocky habitat.”
Frydenberg said the “iconic” koala would be a focus of
national government funding, adding that the full extent of the
damage would not be known until the fires are out – something
experts say could be months away.
Threatened Species Commissioner Sally Box said an estimated
30% of koala habitat – eucalpyt woodlands, which they use for
both food and shelter – in NSW state may have been lost. The
koalas’ heavy fur and tendency to climb higher when threatened
are severe disadvantages in fast-moving bushfires.
Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley said reviews would
be brought forward on whether certain koala populations should
be listed as “endangered” rather than “vulnerable”.
“Everything that can be done to rescue and recover koala
habitat, will be done, including innovative approaches that look
at whether you can actually put a koala in an area that it
hasn’t come from,” Ley said.