In the midst of the looming threat of war with Iran and myriad other world issues in the news cycle, you might not have heard about the fires currently blazing in the Australian bush, parks, and forests. But the bushfires have been devastating to residents of the area, with 20 people dying in the blaze. They’ve also been devastating to flora and fauna in the area.
Ecologists estimate that nearly half a billion animals have died as a result of the bushfires. In New South Wales, one of the most affected regions, an estimated 8,000 koalas, or a third of the total koala population in the area, have perished in the blaze.
Koalas have been disproportionately affected in part because they are slower-moving creatures, making it more difficult for them to escape the fires. Disturbingly, the fact that they primarily eat eucalyptus, a plant whose leaves contain highly flammable oils, also plays a role, Nature Conservation Council ecologist Mark Graham told news.com.au. Viral footage taken in Adelaide, South Australia showed a koala clinging to a bicyclist and frantically chugging from her water bottle, and horrifying images of burnt koalas have also gone viral.
The fires, which have been raging since September, have consumed 14.8 million acres and left thousands of people homeless. The regions of New South Wales and Victoria have been most affected, and entire towns have been destroyed as the result of the fires.
In recent weeks, Australia has experienced a devastating heat wave, resulting in drought and temperatures reaching record highs of 107.4 Fahrenheit. Scientists suggest that the climate crisis likely played a role in exacerbating the fires, as increasingly warm, drier climates may play a role in longer-lasting and more intense forest fires.
In response to the fires, Stand Up for Nature, a local collective of environmental organizations, has called for a temporary end to logging in New South Wales, pointing to the recent loss of life in the region.
“The effects of the catastrophic fires have been so far-reaching that allowing further loss of habitat and impact on native species would be unconscionable,” the letter to New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian reads.