Australia’s fires ‘killed or harmed three billion animals’
- 28 July 2020
Nearly three billion animals were killed or displaced during Australia’s devastating bushfires of the past year, scientists say.
The findings meant it was one of “worst wildlife disasters in modern history”, said the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which commissioned the report.
Mega blazes swept across every Australian state last summer, scorching bush and killing at least 33 people.
Mammals, reptiles, birds and frogs died in the flames or from loss of habitat.
During the peak of the crisis in January, scientists had estimated that 1.25 billion animals had been killed in New South Wales and Victoria alone.
But the new estimate takes in a larger area. About 11.46 million hectares – an area comparable to England – was scorched from September to February.
What was the impact?
“When you think about nearly three billion native animals being in the path of the fires, it is absolutely huge – it’s a difficult number to comprehend,” said Prof Chris Dickman, who oversaw the project by 10 scientists from Australian universities
He said they could not yet state an exact death toll, but noted the chances of animals escaping the blazes and surviving were “probably not that great” due to a lack of food and shelter.
The numbers were based on population counts and estimates of animal density before the disaster.
Limitations on data meant that some groups – such as invertebrates, fish and turtles – were not included in the estimates.
In February, the Australian government identified 113 animal species which needed “urgent help” after the bushfires.
Almost all on the list had lost at least 30% of their habitat in temperate forests and grasslands of Australia’s south and east.
Koalas and wallabies – as well as bird, fish and frog species – were among those needing the most help, said experts.
- A visual guide on the scale of Australia’s fires
- How do we know how many animals died in fires?
- Coronavirus bites into bushfire recovery
The government pledged A$50m (£27m; $35m) to wildlife and habitat recovery, but environmentalists have called on Australia to strengthen its conservation laws.
Australia is holding a royal commission inquiry into the fires, which is due to report findings in October.
It has heard overwhelming evidence from scientists who said the unprecedented frequency and severity of the blazes were a result of climate change.
Experts also said that smoke from the fires was linked to more than 445 deaths.