Wildfires Ravage Australia, Destroying Native Wildlife Populations

Matthew Abbott for The New York Times

Michael Kozloski, Senior Editor

Wildfires have been burning in Australia since September and have spread all over the continent are expected to continue into February or longer. In an effort to feed the surviving animals whose food sources have been destroyed, thousands of pounds of sweet potatoes and carrots have been dropped from helicopters over New South Wales. The Australian government has pledged at least fifty million Australian dollars to help native plants and animals recover from the country’s devastating bushfires.

It is estimated that the fires have released 350 million metric tons of carbon dioxide which experts warn will take over a century to be absorbed. Air quality measurements are twenty times above the hazardous level. This has prompted the biggest evacuation in Australia’s history, currently underway in New South Wales. 

The fires are over two and a half  times the size of the California Wildfires and over five times the size of the fires that burned through the Amazon Rainforest last year. At least twenty-five people have been killed and over 2,000 homes have been destroyed. Areas totaling twice the size of Maryland have been turned to ash, releasing enough smoke to cover most of the European continent. 130 fires are still burning with fifty of them being uncontrolled. 

The number of estimated animal deaths as a result of the bushfire crisis has soared to over one billion according to ecologist Chris Dickman, excluding fish, frogs, bats and insects. The overall survival of the koala species has been threatened, as one-third of the population has been wiped out, including the only community that is considered chlamydia-free. However, James Trezise, a policy analyst at the Australian Conservation Foundation, says, “The number of species and ecosystems that have been severely impacted across their ranges is almost certain to be much higher, especially when factoring in less well-known species of reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.” Other species that experts hold concern for are the brush-tailed rock-wallaby, quokka, greater glider, and western ground parrot. 

People around the world have been sending in handmade knitted items, such as koala mittens or kangaroo pouches for surviving joeys with no mothers. Many wildlife organizations, however, are saying that these items are not able to be used, as the animals’ claws are getting caught in the knitted fibers. Celebrities such as Chris Hemsworth, Elton John, and Ellen DeGeneres have all donated to the cause. Many organizations and volunteer services aiding in the firefighting and recovery efforts for affected communities are presently seeking donations, such as New South Wales Rural Fire Service and the Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie, New South Wales