Australia: more than a billion animals believed to have died in the fires
Posted on 19/01/2020, Modified on 22/01/2020
For a few months now, the world has been witnessing an environmental disaster on a catastrophic scale: Australia is burning. An initial estimate by experts put the number of animals killed in the forest fires at around 500 million, but a new calculation estimates the loss of more than a billion animals across Australia.
A climate emergency
The number of animals killed in the fires raging across Australia is believed to have surpassed the one billion mark. In a statement released by WWF-Australia, around 1,25 billion animals are predicted to have been killed either directly or indirectly from the fires since they first broke out around 4 months ago. Figures released only a couple of weeks ago suggested that 480 million animals have been killed, but that figure has now been revised, based on the science of biodiversity expert Prof Chris Dickman at the University of Sydney. Since September, more than 8,000 hectares have gone up in flames. To put that to scale, that is the same size as the country of Austria. The Australian state of New South Wales is the worst affected with 800 million animals predicted to have died. The fires have since spread to the state of Victoria. "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million - was based on mammals, birds, and reptiles for which we do have densities, and that figure now is a little bit out of date.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," Dickman told the Huffington Post. Counting bats, frogs, and invertebrates (and considering their impact on the environment, there's a valid reason to do so), Dickman said it's "without any doubt at all" that the number of animals lost extends far beyond one billion. "Over a billion would be a very conservative figure."
Some species predicted to have been tipped over brink of extinction
Koalas are one species hit badly by the fires. These iconic Australian marsupials have lost more than 30% of their key habitat in New South Wales alone and may have lost a third of their population in that region, federal environment minister Sussan Ley told the Australian Broadcasting Corp in an interview. Dickman said it would be a "tough" recovery for the koalas and it is still unknown whether the population will ever truly recover. But koalas are not the only species that have faced enormous losses. Other iconic species such as kangaroos, wallabies, gliders, potoroos, cockatoos and honeyeaters have lost both their homes and lives to the catastrophic bushfires. Of the animals that have died, many have been killed directly by the fires, but others are likely to have been killed indirectly because o f the sudden lack of food and shelter: birds have lost their breeding trees as well as the fruits and bugs that they feed on whereas the ground-dwelling mammals that have survived will emerge from their burrows to find an open desolate landscape with nowhere to hide from predators. "There are a whole lot of things that are ecologically off the scale," commented Prof Richard Kingsford, director of the University of New South Wales Centre for Ecosystem Science, in regards to this new ecological imbalance that will tip many species towards extinction.
But regardless of the exact numbers, this is a crisis for biodiversity in Australia, and for the whole world. Around 244 species of mammals are found only in Australia and some already critically endangered species, including the mountain pygmy-possum, could have been wiped out completely.