More than 60,000 koalas were among the animals severely affected by the bushfire crisis in Australia a year ago, according to a report commissioned by the World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia.
The worst casualties have been on Kangaroo Island in South Australia, where the conservation group estimates that more than 41,000 koalas have been killed or injured by the fierce fires. More than 11,000 have been affected in Victoria State, nearly 8,000 in New South Wales (NSW) and nearly 900 in Queensland.
WWF-Australia chief executive Dermot O’Gorman said koalas in NSW and Queensland were in rapid decline even before the fires.
“Sixty thousand koalas affected is a deeply disturbing number for an already struggling species,” O’Gorman said in a statement. “We cannot afford to lose koalas under our watch.”
The bushfires that swept across south-eastern Australia from September 2019 to the start of this year destroyed more than 24 million hectares of land and killed 33 people.
In July, WWF released a draft version of the study which found nearly 3 billion animals – mammals, birds, reptiles and frogs – were in the path of the flames.
That overall estimate is unchanged in the final report, released Monday, with around 143 million mammals, 2.46 billion reptiles, 181 million birds and 51 million frogs in areas affected by the fires.
Koalas, which typically spend most of their time in trees, have suffered injuries, trauma, smoke inhalation, heat stress, dehydration and death, according to the report. Marsupials have also been affected by habitat loss – and conflict with other animals when they fled to unburned forest – as well as reduced food supplies.
Besides the koalas, WWF estimates that millions of native animals were in the path of the flames, including 50 million native rats and mice, nearly 40 million possums and gliders, 5 million kangaroos and wallabies. ; 5 million bats; 1.1 million wombats; 114,000 echidnas and 5,000 dingoes.
WWF is launching a new program with the aim of doubling the number of koalas in eastern Australia by 2050.
Koalas Forever will include a trial of seed dispersing drones to create koala corridors and the creation of a fund to encourage landowners to create safe havens for marsupials, which live in eucalyptus trees and eat the leaves.
“WWF is committed to helping restore wildlife and habitats, rejuvenate communities affected by bushfires, boost sustainable agriculture and make our country sustainable,” said O’Gorman.
Research into the effects of fires on Australian animals was managed by Lily Van Eeden, a researcher at the University of Sydney, and supervised by Chris Dickman, professor of terrestrial ecology at the university.
They recommended that Australia map and monitor plants and animals in areas most vulnerable to future fires, and develop strategies to protect those places when fires do occur.
“We didn’t have a lot of data for some animals,” Van Eeden said in a statement. “More research is needed on the number of animals and their ability to survive different levels of fire intensity. We need to understand this to protect species more effectively. “
“People were shocked by our research and told me, ‘We cannot allow disasters of this magnitude to continue into the future,” said Dickman, who is also a member of the WWF board. -Australia.
“With long-term monitoring, we would be in a much better position to know where and when to act and what resources are needed to save species at risk.”