Friday 17 January 2020

Survival of iconic species now in danger as deadly Australian fires kill 25,000 koalas

Marsupials among half-a-billion animals to die in Australian blazes

One of the koalas rescued from the bushfires on Kangaroo Island. AP photo
One of the koalas rescued from the bushfires on Kangaroo Island. AP photo

Giovanni Torre in Perth

At least 25,000 koalas are believed to have died in wildfires in Australia that may lead to devastating consequences for the survival of the species.

The fire on Kangaroo Island, which was considered a koala safe haven because its population had escaped a devastating chlamydia epidemic, was described on Saturday as "virtually unstoppable" by firefighters.

Koala rescuer Margaret Hearle said another important species population, nicknamed "the gene pool" because of its good health, had been "wiped out" in Crestwood, New South Wales.

Meanwhile, footage shot by an Australian Broadcasting Corporation cameraman in New South Wales yesterday showed the charred carcasses of hundreds of kangaroos and sheep lying by the road.

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"Sorry to share these images near Batlow, NSW. It's completely heartbreaking. Worst thing I've seen. Story must be told," the cameraman wrote on Twitter.

Lower temperatures and lighter winds brought some relief in New South Wales and Victoria yesterday, but authorities warned that extremely hot and dry weather is expected to return within days and that fires will continue to burn for weeks.

Safe: Two soldiers help a family and their dog evacuate by helicopter at the town of Omeo in the state of Victoria. Photo: Getty Images
Safe: Two soldiers help a family and their dog evacuate by helicopter at the town of Omeo in the state of Victoria. Photo: Getty Images

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced the mobilisation of up to 3,000 army reservists to assist exhausted volunteer firefighters.

He defended his handling of the crisis yesterday, saying: "Blame doesn't help anybody at this time and over-analysis of these things is not a productive exercise."

Wildlife experts estimate that half-a-billion mammals, birds and reptiles have been killed in recent weeks.

There are fears that endangered species in sanctuaries such as Kangaroo Island, which was also home to 50,000 kangaroos before the fire, could be lost forever.

Smoke from bushfires thousands of kilometres away in Australia colours the sky in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Getty Images
Smoke from bushfires thousands of kilometres away in Australia colours the sky in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo: Getty Images

They include the critically endangered Kangaroo Island dunnart, a mouse-like marsupial indigenous to the island.

Sam Mitchell, co-owner of Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park, told local media the park was expecting to treat hundreds of starving and injured koalas in the coming weeks and is building extra enclosures in preparation.

About €12.4m worth of bluegum and pine trees on plantations were also lost.

In New South Wales, temperatures are forecast to pass 40C again on Friday, and in Victoria three blazes remain at emergency level despite the cooler weather and subsiding winds.

At least 24 people have died during the crisis so far.

Four people are missing, and the air and sea evacuation from Mallacoota, a town that was cut off by the fires, is continuing.

Early yesterday, Dave Harrison (47) died of a heart attack in New South Wales while fighting to save a friend's rural property in Batlow.

His brother Peter said he "was just that sort of guy... he would help anyone at the drop of a hat - he would drive hours to help you".

"They had a plan to get out, but I just think he was overcome by the heat, the smoke, the exhaustion, running around putting out spot fires everywhere," he said.

It is believed at least another 60 homes were destroyed in New South Wales overnight and that estimate is expected to rise.

While it took weeks of pressure for the federal government to commit to an additional €6.2m of funding for water bombers, Celeste Barber, an Australian comedian, has taken just three days to raise €15.5m in donations for the NSW Rural Fire Service from the public, including people from around the world.

US singer Pink and actress Nicole Kidman each pledged AU$500,000 (€311,000) to the cause. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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