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n a grim video, a man drives into the fire-ravaged town of Batlow, in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW). Both sides of the road are covered with ash and lingering smoke. They’re also littered with the charred remains of animals killed in the region.The blazes, which have been burning across Australia for months, have razed homes and wiped out entire towns. Across Australia, nearly 18 million acres of land have been burned — much of it bushland, forests and national parks, home to the country’s beloved and uniquewildlife.

PORT MACQUARIE, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 29: Lake Innes Nature Reserve Paul in the ICU recovering from burns at The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital on November 29, 2019 in Port Macquarie, Australia. Volunteers from the Koala Hospital have been working alongside National Parks and Wildlife Service crews searching for koalas following weeks of devastating bushfires across New South Wales and Queensland. Koalas rescued from fire grounds have been brought back to the hospital for treatment. An estimated million hectares of land has been burned by bushfire across Australia following catastrophic fire conditions in recent weeks, killing an estimated 1000 koalas along with other wildlife. (Photo by Nathan Edwards/Getty Images)

Nearly half a billion animals have been impacted by the fires in NSW alone, with millions potentially dead, according to ecologists at the University of Sydney. That figure includes birds, reptiles, and mammals, except bats. It also excludes insects and frogs — meaning the true number is likelymuch higher.The total number of animals affected nationwide could be as high as a billion, according to Christopher Dickman, the University of Sydney ecologist who led the report.Fires are nothing new in Australia, but they have been growing more intense and becoming more destructive in recent years, a problem that has beenexacerbated by climate change. And animals have been onthe front lines — Australia has the highest rate of species loss of any area in the world, and researchers fear that rate could increase as the fire disaster continues.”The scale of these fires is unprecedented,” said Dieter Hochuli, an environmental sciences professor at the University of Sydney. “There are substantial concerns about the capacity of these (ecosystems) to rebound from the fires.”

SOUTH WEST NATIONAL PARK, TASMANIA, AUSTRALIA – 2003/12/01: A potoroo, a small native Tasmanian that belongs to the Kangaroo family. Evolving to suit a temperate climate and dense vegetation habitat as opposed to the wide-open plains of mainland Australia, potoroo are a fraction of the size of their cousins. Tracing the rugged coastline of Tasmania’s most southern tip, the South Coast Track is renown as one of the world’s greatest wilderness walks. Spanning 83 kilometers over seven days, it passes through World Heritage land, protected for its significant ecological value in the world. Tasmania’s wilderness is currently being threatened by a voracious woodchipping industry fed by the clear felling of old growth temperate rainforest species only found on the island, some thousands of years old. It is deemed as an impending ecological catastrophe. (Photo by Leisa Tyler/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Flames, food, and predators

The team at the University of Sydney came to their conclusion by using estimates of NSW mammal population density in 2007 in order to estimate how many animals have been affected by the 4.9 million hectares (12.1 million acres) that have been set alight in the state this fire season.It’s a pretty good estimate, Hochuli said — but until the fires stop, they have no way of surveying exactly how many animals have died. And since the density figures excluded some species of bats and frogs, “the true loss of animal life is likely to be much higher than 480 million,” said a statement from the university.

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