Australia — Hundreds of thousands of native Australiananimals such as koalas and kangaroos have been killed in bushfires that haveburnt across southeast Australia in the past two weeks, wildlife officials saidyesterday.
The bushfires, which are still burning in three eastern states, have been sobig and intense that wildlife officials fear some species may become extinct asthe fires destroy large swathes of animal habitats.
“The fires are so devastating and moving so quickly that animals justdon’t have a chance to get out of the way,” said Pat O’Brien, president ofthe Wildlife Protection Association.
“Because of the heat and the fireballs that are happening the animalsare just bursting into flames and just being killed even before the fire gets tothem because its so hot,” O’Brien said yesterday.
Koalas and possums, which instinctively climb to the treetops for safety,would have had no chance of escaping the blazes, and kangaroos and bush birdswould have been unable to outrun the fast-burning fires, he said.
This meant a very real threat of seeing species unique to the burnt-out areas,such as frogs and birds, becoming extinct, O’Brien said.
“These fires will directly contribute to the extinction of a number ofspecies and we won’t know the full effects for another 10 years,” he said.
“It takes 100 years for some animals to move back in an area, if there’sany available to move back in. In the case of gliders, which are rare andendangered anyway, they may never come back… they’ll just go into extinction.”
Fires in Victoria, Tasmania and New South Wales states have burnt more than847,000 hectares. The worst fires are in Victoria where more than 4,000firefighters are battling four large blazes which have blackened 750,000hectares.
Police say more than 30 homes have so far been razed.
Firefighters said cooler conditions had eased the bushfire threat in thethree eastern states but fires were still burning out of control. In WesternAustralia, a fire which has already destroyed 12,000 hectares is blazingunchecked.
Wildlife officials said a major factor in the high animal death toll was thepredominance of eucalyptus trees in burning bushland. The oil in the treesexplodes into flames.
Some experts believe close to 100 per cent of the animals in the path of theVictorian blazes had been destroyed, with wildlife rescuers reporting nosurvivors.
Wildlife officials fear the animal death toll will rise even further as thoseanimals which survive the fires may now starve to death in the charred landscape.
Australia faces extreme fire danger this summer due to a drought.