3/9/20 – Australian Wildfires Killed 12% of Koalas, Prompting Extinction Worries

A Mar. 2020 International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) study found that at least 5,000 koalas (12% of the population) died in New South Wales (NSW) during the 2019-2020 Australian wildfires. The report notes that the estimates are conservative and many more koalas likely died.

The report found that up to 66% of the past three generations of NSW koalas have been lost to droughts, bushfires, and man-made causes.

Josey Sharrad, IFAW Wildlife Campaigner, stated, “Koalas were already living on the brink before these fires, with populations declining in many areas due to excessive land clearing, disease and roadkill and local extinctions already known to have occurred. This disaster and the ongoing nature of the threats could push koalas over the edge. This is a koala emergency. Koalas must be immediately up listed to Endangered on an emergency basis and a moratorium on all harmful activities impacting koalas enforced to allow surviving populations some breathing space while their capacity to recover is further assessed.”

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service tweeted on Mar. 2, 2020, “For the first time since early July 2019, there is currently no active bush or grass fires in #NSW. That’s more than 240 days of fire activity for the state. #nswfires #nswrfs”

A World Weather Attribution study found that climate change increased the likelihood of wildfires like those in Australia by at least 30% since 1900. An increase of 2 degrees Celsius could make similar fire conditions at least four times more likely to occur.

2019 was the hottest and driest year on record in Australia. The wildfires burned over 12.6 million acres in NSW and 44.5 million acres country-wide (an area equivalent to the size of England and Wales), killing at least 34 people and about one billion animals, and destroying approximately 6,000 buildings. William Reville, emeritus professor of biochemistry at University College Cork in Ireland, said that other factors contributed to the Australian wildfires, such as the “failure to regularly reduce ‘fuel load’ in bush and forests,” an insufficient supply of firefighters, and arson.

Sources:

International Fund for Animal Welfare, “IFAW Calls for Emergency Uplisting of NSW Koalas to Endangered after Report Reveals True Impact of Bushfires,” ifaw.org, Mar. 3, 2020

Center for Disaster Philanthropy, “2019-2020 Australian Bushfires,” disasterphilanthropy.org, Feb. 17, 2020

Drew Kann, “The Climate Crisis Made Australia’s Wildfires at least 30% More Likely, Study Finds,” cnn.com, Mar. 4, 2020

New South Wales Rural Fire Service, twitter.com, Mar. 2, 2020

William Reville, “Australian Bush Fires Were Not Caused by Climate Change Alone,” irishtimes.com, Feb. 20, 2020

Tracey Shelton, “Australians Open Wallets, Hearts for Fire-ravaged Communities,” aljazeera.com, Jan. 25, 2020

World Weather Attribution, “Attribution of the Australian Bushfire Risk to Anthropogenic Climate Change,” worldweatherattribution.org, Jan. 10, 2020