KEY POINTS

  • Raging Australia wildfires killed almost 500 million animals
  • Koalas under threat from significant habitat loss were the worst hard
  • Insects key to pollination and nutrient cycling also suffered massive losses

Australia wildfires have taken a heavy toll on animal life. A  study by the University of Sydney said close to half a billion animals and plants have been wiped out in the bushfires that erupted since September last year.

Approximately 480 million mammals, birds, and reptiles have died in the fires. Raging fires have destroyed hundreds of homes and thousands of people fled to the shoreline from New South Wales and Victoria. According to official estimates, 12.35 million acres of land have burned nationwide and 18 people have been killed so far.

Media reports have shown devastating images and videos of kangaroos fleeing burning forests and charred bodies of koalas on the ground.

Endangered koalas

The fires have killed nearly 8,000 koalas. They are already under threat from habitat loss.

“Up to 30 percent of their habitat has been destroyed," Australia's environment minister, Sussan Ley, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Koalas are slow-moving and only eat leaves of the eucalyptus tree and that makes highly flammable.

The gravity of fires on creatures was highlighted by Nature Conservation Council ecologist Mark Graham, according to Digital Journal. In a briefing to parliament, Graham said, “The fires burned so hot and fast that there has been significant mortality of animals in the trees, a big area that is still on fire and we will probably never find the bodies.”

“We're getting a lot of lessons out of this and it's just showing how unprepared we are,” Science for Wildlife executive director Dr. Kellie Leigh also told parliament in December during a hearing.

Although animal hospitals played their role in taking care of injured and burned animals, the services are under stress.

Associate Professor Dieter Hochuli from the University of Sydney noted other than kangaroos and koalas, many vital insects key to pollination also suffered massive losses.

There is no certainty how those populations and ecosystems will recover. Additionally, many rare plant species have disappeared completely.