It’s impossible to put an exact number on the animals that have fallen victim to the Australian bush fires so far but ecologists from the University of Sydney have estimated that the number is around 480 million (1). This includes the three main groups of animals – mammals, birds, and reptiles. The number also isn’t exclusive to animals killed directly by the fires but also those suffocated in smoke or those that died from hunger or dehydration (2).
Sussan Ley, the federal environmental minister of Australia told ABC that up to 30% of the animal life in New South Wales has likely been killed in the fires. She bases that on the fact that ~30% of the wildlife habitat in the Australian province has been destroyed.
“We’ll know more when the fires have calmed down and a proper assessment can be made,” Ley said.
Thankfully, there are some heavy rains last week which helped the emergency crews a bit but there are still over 100 fires raging across the country. Over five million hectares of land have been destroyed so far, four of which are in New South Wales. There are human casualties as well with up to 17 people dead so far.
In addition to the wildlife and human deaths, incalculable property damage has been accumulated as well and the air quality over most of the south-eastern part of the country is severely affected. In southwest Sydney, for example, the air quality has been deemed hazardous.
Still, animals are the most severely impacted. As reported in December, koalas in New South Wales are “practically” extinct as their numbers are so low that they can’t possibly recover their numbers without human help (3).
Koalas weren’t in a very good situation before as well – according to WWF Australia and the Nature Conservation Council (NCC) koalas were already close to extinct due to deforestation and the recent wildfires acted as the final nail in their species coffin (4).
Even with just man-made deforestations, however, the signature Australian tree animals didn’t fare well. The WWF and NCC report used satellite imagery to show how the deforestation rates had tripled from 2.845 hectares to 8.194 hectares in 2017 and 2018.
With those deforestation rates, koalas were expected to go extinct in 2050. The recent fires have essentially taken away 30 years away from koalas making their extinction almost imminent.