A Crisis of Unprecedented Scale
Australia is facing a catastrophic environmental crisis. We grieve for the impacted communities. And as conservationists, we are deeply concerned that we will lose many rare and endangered species to extinction because of this disaster. Many species native to Australia are found nowhere else on Earth.
Scientists estimate that 1.25 billion wild animals have been killed by the fires. This conservative calculation excludes fish, frogs, bats, and insects. The number could actually be much higher.
Scientists estimate that Australia’s devastating wildfires have killed more than 1.25 billion animals.
Hungry and Homeless
All across Australia, the landscape has been devastated. More than eleven million hectares of land—43,000 square miles, or 27.2 million acres—have burned. Entire ecosystems have been destroyed. And animals that managed to escape the fires now face starvation and dehydration.
Our colleagues are rescuing animals that have been injured or stranded by the wildfires and taking them to safe places where they can receive the treatment and care they need in order to heal. The teams' heroic rescue efforts also include leaving food and water behind for animals that don’t require veterinary treatment.
More than 100 fires are still burning in Australia. In early January 2020, there were more than 200 fires across the country.
Search and Rescue
Meet Smudge, an essential member of our search and rescue team. For conservationists, finding a koala hiding in a tree is nearly impossible—but not for Smudge! He uses his nose to track through the forest, searching for koalas, and alerts his handlers when he finds a survivor.
Smudge’s team includes expert climbers, who bravely ascend 200 feet into swaying eucalyptus trees. Using special equipment, they bring the koalas down to safety. This dedicated group has even managed to find and rescue a number of koalas before the fires reached their trees!
Eucalyptus trees can grow to be more than 200 feet tall—no problem for a koala to climb, but not as easy for Smudge's team.
No one knows exactly how much of Australia's plant life has been lost to the wildfires, but some of the consequences of this widespread disaster are already visible.
When fires destroy trees and plants, dozens of wildlife species lose shelter and food sources. Without brush to hide under or trees to escape into, smaller animals like quokka become especially vulnerable to predators like foxes and feral cats.
Experts think that some of Australia's ecosystems could start to bounce back within a few years, if no more major fires rip through them. Other environments might need decades or centuries to recover. And some habitats may not be able to recover at all.
Australia is comprised of six states and two territories. They have all experienced wildfires during the 2019-2020 season.
For now, emergency crews and conservationists are addressing the immediate needs of wildlife, rescuing and caring for as many animals as possible. But the challenges won't end when the fires are gone. Animals that don't fall victim to starvation, dehydration, exposure, or opportunistic predators will have to adjust to an altered landscape.
And later in the year, when the rainy season arrives, debris from the fires will be washed into waterways. Water-dwelling animals like platypuses will likely be affected by contamination and pollution as their homes become inundated with soot, ash, charred wreckage, and fire-dousing chemicals.
Nearly 250 species of mammals are found only in Australia.
You Can Provide Relief and Hope
Over the past few weeks, friends around the world have mobilized and come together to help our partners and colleagues in Australia. We’ve never seen so many people come together so quickly for wildlife, and we’re in awe. Those donations are already hard at work in Australia.
Your support today will save lives. For nearly 100 years, we’ve been working with conservation partners to protect koalas, kangaroos, platypuses, and many other Australian species found nowhere else on Earth. With rampant fires raging across the country, these iconic animals need us now more than ever.
Your donation will be put to work immediately. Your generous gift will rescue and relocate animals in danger, provide critical access to water for survivors in the wild, and care for koalas and countless other victims stranded by the wildfires.
Estimates suggest that nearly a third of koalas in New South Wales alone may have been killed in the fires, and a third of their habitat within the state has been destroyed.
photo credits | all images iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images | koala, first image: CraigRJD | kangaroos: Bobtokyoharris | koala mother and joey: robertcicchetti | firefighter surveying burnt trees: Stuart_Shaw | Smudge, the koala detection dog: Blue Mountains Koala Project, Science For Wildlife | burnt trees: JohnJDowling | platypus: JohnCarnemolla | koala climbing tree: fogaas