The number of animals feared dead in Australia’s wildfire catastrophe has now soared to over 1 billion, experts say.
WWF-Australia estimates that around 1.25 billion animals may have been killed directly or indirectly from the ongoing fires.
“This heart-breaking loss includes thousands of precious koalas on the mid-north coast of NSW [New South Wales], along with other iconic species such as kangaroos, wallabies, gliders, potoroos, cockatoos and honeyeaters,” Dermot O’Gorman, CEO of WWF-Australia, said in a statement.
“Many forests will take decades to recover and some species may have tipped over the brink of extinction. Until the fires subside, the full extent of damage will remain unknown.”
Professor Chris Dickman, an ecologist from the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Science has also updated his previous estimate of the number of animals killed in the bushfires to over 800 million animals in New South Wales, totaling over 1 billion animals nationwide.
However, “Over a billion would be a very conservative figure,” Dickman told the Huffington Post.
In late December, Dickman speculated that around 480 million animals may have perished from the wildfires that continue to tear across Australia. However, as the crisis continues to deepen, he now believes that figure is likely to have doubled.
Dickman’s figures are based on a 2007 report for the WWF on the impacts of land clearing in New South Wales, which also gauged the population density of mammals, birds, and reptiles in the state.
Kangaroo Island in the state of South Australia has suffered a huge blow due to the recent fires. The island is known for its unique and rare wildlife, such as the glossy black cockatoo and the Kangaroo Island dunnart, an endangered marsupial found only there. NASA satellite data indicate that up to one-third of the island (over 383,000 acres) has been burned from the bushfires
Meanwhile, the fires continue to rage. The latest figures also suggest that at least 27 people have died. Since the start of the bushfire season in September, an estimated 10.3 million hectares (25.5 million acres) have burned, according to Reuters. That’s an area the size of South Korea.
The crisis has been fuelled by months of unprecedented baking heat and drought. Meteorologists are also blaming the freak weather on a little-known climate system called the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), which has caused a fall of sea-surface temperatures in the western Indian Ocean and created drier weather in Australia.
Australia has always had bushfires, but make no mistake, climate change has also made these wildfires all the more persistent and prevalent.
“Australia is a land of bushfires, but this season’s unprecedented mega fires are not normal. Climate change does not cause bushfires, but it does make them much worse,” said O’Gorman.