In Australia, millions of animals feared dead in fires

Hundreds of bushfires in east and south Australia are wreaking havoc on native animals that have either died or are being severely impacted through lost habitat, starvation and displacement.
In recent days, viral photos of thirsty and exhausted koalas being provided water by a cyclist or a driver have generated huge interest regarding the impact of the bush fires on animals across the world.
“The worst ones are the ones you see sitting on the ground, all hunched up,” says John Grant, spokesman for 2,600-strongvolunteer-run Wildlife Information Rescue & Education Service(WIRES).
“They are not going to recover because they have inhaled so much heat and smoke. They aren’t dead but they won’t survive.”
So far, more than 7 million hectares of land, or the size of the Czech Republic, have already burned across the country since the bushfire season started early this year in September.
More than 800 million native animals have been affected or killed in the blazes in New South Wales (NSW), the worst-hit state where about 5 million hectares of land has already burned, according to Prof Chris Dickman, an ecologist with Sydney University.
In Victoria, where more than 1 million hectares of land has already burned, “it is estimated that as many as 500 million animals, including critically endangered species, have already perished in the bushfires,” Zoos Victoria’s CEO Jenny Gray told reporters.
Sue Ashton, the director of the country’s only Koala Hospital in bushfire-impacted Port Macquarie, estimates tens of thousands of koalas have perished across the country.
“In our area alone, hundreds of koalas have died. In one small area where we have been studying the population for a long time, 350 or two-thirds of the population, perished,” Ashton said on Monday.
“There are dozens of habitats of a small koala population across the country and a lot of those have been incinerated and turned to ash.”
Grant says the situation on the ground is “extremely distressing” as they try to rescue and treat animals impacted by the bushfires.
“We see animals suffering from dehydration, exhaustion, and burns.”
The WIRES volunteers, some of whom have had their properties damaged due to the blazes, have received thousands of birds — many of them falling from the skies due to heat exhaustion — as well as kangaroos,wallabies, wombats, koalas, gliders and possums.
“Many mothers are turfing their joeys from their pouches in order to save themselves. We are worried about the next generation,” Grant said, adding many animals had to be put to sleep due to complications.
“We are not even able to estimate the impact on wildlife. In December we received 20,000 phone calls for help,” he said. “We are not a scientific organisation, but the damage and destruction to the animals and their habitat is unprecedented. It’s uncharted territory.” — dpa

Subel Bhandari