Wildlife rescuer Simon Adamczyk holds a koala he rescued at a burning forest near Cape Borda on Kangaroo Island, Australia, 07 January 2020. Picture: David Mariuz/EPA-EFE
Wildlife rescuer Simon Adamczyk holds a koala he rescued at a burning forest near Cape Borda on Kangaroo Island, Australia, 07 January 2020. Picture: David Mariuz/EPA-EFE

Australia calls bushfires an 'ecological disaster' as koalas, wallabies endangered

By Sonali Paul Time of article published Jan 13, 2020

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Melbourne - The Australian government

committed A$50 million to an emergency wildlife recovery program

on Monday, calling the bushfires crisis engulfing the country

"an ecological disaster" that threatens several species,

including koalas and rock wallabies.

Huge wildfires have razed more than 11.2 million hectares

(27.7 million acres), nearly half the area of the United

Kingdom, destroying or severely damaging the habitats of several

native animals.

Some estimates suggest as many as a billion animals,

including livestock and domestic pets, have either died in the

blazes or are at risk in their aftermath due to a lack of food

and shelter.

"This has been an ecological disaster, a disaster that is

still unfolding," Treasurer Frydenberg told reporters on Monday

as he visited the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, where 45 koalas

were being treated for burns.

"We know that our native flora and fauna have been very

badly damaged."

Images of burned kangaroos, koalas and possums, along with

footage of people risking their lives to save native animals

have gone viral around the world. Knitters around the world have

responded to a call to create thousands of protective pouches

and blankets for injured wildlife.

The Australian division of the Worldwide Fund for Nature

(WWF) has advised the government of 13 animals whose habitats

have been either destroyed or severely damaged. They include

three critically endangered species: the southern corroboree

frog, the regent honeyeater bird and the western ground parrot.

"Huge proportions of globally significant areas like the

Gondwana Rainforestand Blue Mountains World Heritage Areas along

with the Australian Alps and Western Australia’s Stirling Ranges

have suffered catastrophic burns," WWF said in an emailed


Other animals at risk include koala populations across the

southeast, the Kangaroo Island dunnart, glossy black cockatoo,

long-footed potoroo, western ground parrot, Blue Mountains water

skink, eastern bristlebird and the brush-tailed rock wallaby.


In a mission dubbed Operation Rock Wallaby, national park

staff used helicopters to air drop thousands of kilos of carrots

and sweet potatoes to brush-tailed rock wallabies in remote

areas of New South Wales state.

"The provision of supplementary food is one of the key

strategies we are deploying to promote the survival and recovery

of endangered species like the brush-tailed rock wallaby," NSW

environment minister Matt Kean said.

"The wallabies typically survive the fire itself, but are

then left stranded with limited natural food as the fire takes

out the vegetation around their rocky habitat."

Frydenberg said the "iconic" koala would be a focus of

national government funding, adding that the full extent of the

damage would not be known until the fires are out - something

experts say could be months away.

Threatened Species Commissioner Sally Box said an estimated

30% of koala habitat - eucalpyt woodlands, which they use for

both food and shelter - in NSW state may have been lost. The

koalas' heavy fur and tendency to climb higher when threatened

are severe disadvantages in fast-moving bushfires.

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley said reviews would

be brought forward on whether certain koala populations should

be listed as "endangered" rather than "vulnerable".

"Everything that can be done to rescue and recover koala

habitat, will be done, including innovative approaches that look

at whether you can actually put a koala in an area that it

hasn't come from," Ley said.


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