Australia Bushfire: Wildlife devastated by Australian fires could take decades to recover. World News
Unprecedented temperatures across the continent have made this season’s fires particularly deadly, killing at least 20 people and taking apocalyptic scenes to an area roughly twice the size of Belgium.
The crisis has focused attention on climate change, which scientists say is creating a longer and more intense wildfire season, and the Australian government has faced widespread criticism of its response and more environmental policy Wide.
Heartbreaking images of desperate koalas drinking from water bottles delivered to them by helpless rescuers and kangaroos in fire-raved cities and charred forests have shocked people around the world.
However, there is some hope, as experts believe that burnt forests can recover over time, and decimated populations of koalas, kangaroos and other poorly affected species may be able to return.
A study from the University of Sydney estimates that 480 million animals have been killed in the state of New South Wales (NSW) since September 2019, and according to a statement released on Friday, the authors said the mortality estimates “highly conservatives” could mean that the toll could be “substantially higher.”
In order to reach the figure, the researchers cross-referenced estimates of the population density of mammals in NSW with areas of vegetation known to have been burned to determine the death toll, including mammals, birds and reptiles, but not insects, bats or frogs.
“The real loss of animal life is likely to be much greater than 480 million,” the statement said.
“NSW wildlife is seriously threatened and under increasing pressure from a number of threats, including land clearing, exotic pests and climate change.”
Professor Andrew Beattie, of Macquarie University, near Sydney, told AFP that he believes the number of animal dead deaths across the country could be in billions, “if you think of mammals, birds and reptiles, amphibians and say the largest insects c butterflies.”
“We can be pretty sure that in large parts of these very expansive fires, most of the wildlife will be dead,” said professor emeritus in the department of life sciences.
“The flora and fauna will disappear, and that includes the smaller animals that form the food chain for the larger ones, which people often don’t think about.”
Koala’s populations have been hit particularly hard because they live on trees, feed only on certain types of eucalyptus and cannot move fast enough away from the flames.
Even before this year’s wildfire crisis, the numbers in NSW and Queensland had already declined by 42 percent between 1990 and 2010, according to the federal scientific committee on endangered species.
The plight of the marsupial – native to Australia – has been raised in the country’s parliament, with Nature Conservation Council environmentalist Mark Graham telling lawmakers: “The fires have burned so hot and so fast that there has been significant mortality of animals in trees, but there is such a large area now that it is still on fire and still burning that we will probably never find the bodies.”
Previous studies have found that fires do not spread across the landscape evenly, and some places are left unharmed even if the areas around them are completely devastated.
“These are those areas that are intact or have suffered less where wildlife tends to accumulate if they can get there,” Beattie told the AFP, adding that if there are enough of them, burnt forests should regenerate over time, but only if the conditions improve rapidly.
When asked if there was hope for animal repopulation in the hardest-hit areas, Beattie said it depends on factors such as rain, weather and logging, and that habitats could take up to 40 years to return to normal.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s handling of the crisis has provoked anger in Australia and beyond, and Beattie said the response, particularly from the federal government, has been “unfortunately slow and his attitude remains woefully casual.”
“You have federal politicians with very little knowledge of the environment, which is, as we are now discovering ‘the real world’, and therefore have not perceived the catastrophes that lie ahead.”