Over 1 billion animals, most of them found nowhere else in the world, have been killed by Australia’s current bushfire crisis.
Now, Australia’s Department of the Environment and Energy (DEE) has released a report detailing the species whose populations have almost entirely been wiped out and face the genuine threat of extinction. According to the report, 49 species have had over 80% of their habitat affected by fires, while 65 species have had over half their habitat impacted.
The majority of these species are plants; but mammals, birds, frogs, fish, insects, and reptiles have also been hit.
"These results are just the first step in understanding the potential impacts of the bushfires,” Threatened Species Commissioner Sally Box said on Facebook. “Some species are more vulnerable to fire than others, and some areas were more severely burnt than others, so further analysis is needed to fully assess the impact of the fires on the ground.”
Our preliminary analysis on the potential impact of this summer's bushfires on threatened & migratory species shows 49 nationally listed threatened & migratory species have had more than 80% of range affected by bushfires: https://t.co/OGavH403YB— environment.gov.au (@envirogov) January 20, 2020
📷Brendan Esposito, ABC News pic.twitter.com/uoi8ghJkOB
Ecology Professor Chris Dickman explained in a paper released by the University of Sydney that animals that survive the initial bushfires will now find land that no longer has the materials they need to survive, leaving them vulnerable to predators like feral cats or starvation.
"We know that Australian biodiversity has been going down over the last several decades, and it's probably fairly well known that Australia's got the world's highest rate of extinction for mammals,” Dickman said. “It's events like this that may well hasten the extinction process for a range of other species.”
Dickman warned that even if ecosystems recover in the next few years, the possibility of burnt areas burning again due to the effects of climate change is high.
"What we're seeing are the effects of climate change. Sometimes, it's said that Australia is the canary in the coal mine with the effects of climate change being seen here most severely and earliest,” he added. “We're probably looking at what climate change may look like for other parts of the world in the first stages in Australia at the moment.”
Below, we look at the species now considered most vulnerable to extinction following the bushfires.
1. Kangaroo Island Dunnart
Bushfires on Kangaroo Island have been catastrophic for wildlife, particularly for the critically endangered KI Dunnart.— Australian Wildlife Conservancy (@awconservancy) January 20, 2020
We're partnering with Kangaroo Island Land For Wildlife and local landholders to prevent this unique mammal from going extinct.https://t.co/BFFvGCfX5x
DEE estimates that upwards of 80% of the habitat and known population of the tiny mouselike mammals has been destroyed by fires. The animals, which live only on South Australia’s Kangaroo Island, were already labelled as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Before the bushfires, only 500 of the animals were thought to exist.
2. Kangaroo Island Glossy Black Cockatoo
Our hearts reach out to everyone impacted by Australia’s ferocious and devastating bushfires. Some of the stories we’re hearing are truly heartbreaking. And terrifying. We are thinking of you and your families. Thank you to all the volunteers who are at the frontline of this fire emergency; from firefighters working long hours in the hot ash and blood red skies, to people in the community who are stepping up to support each other. You are amazing. As well as the terrible loss of life and property, experts estimate more than 500 million animals have been killed so far, including threatened species close to everyone’s hearts, such as Regent Honeyeaters, Eastern Bristlebird and Glossy Black-Cockatoos. Many of the surviving birds have lost breeding habitat and now face starvation. The scale of the wildlife emergency is unprecedented, which is why we are stepping-up to do our bit for Australia’s birds. BirdLife is already planning and coordinating a disaster response; we need to understand the impact on threatened birds and work with our partners to put emergency plans in place for now and the longer-term. You can help BirdLife’s disaster recovery effort for threatened birds by donating to our appeal (link in our bio). Your support will help give threatened native birds a more hopeful start to the new year. Thank you. More details to come 🙂 We remain hopeful that, if we all listen to the science and pull together, we can help to put bushfire-ravaged regional communities and our birds on the road to recovery. 📷 Glossy Black-Cockatoo by Bob Walpole #AustralianBushfire #birdsinbackyards #birdsofaustralia #birdlifeoz #birdwatching #bushfires #AustraliaisBurning #ClimateCrisis #ClimateEmergency #ThreatenedSpecies #EndangeredSpecies #ActForBirds #AussieWildlife #AustralianWildlife #CitizenScience #volunteers #glossyblackcockatoo #blackcockatoo #birdlifeaustralia #birdsofinstagram #bird #birding #birdlife #birdnerd #birding #putabirdonit #birdistheword #lovebirds #birdwatching_ig #birdstagram @blackcockatooproject
Between 50-80% of the glossy black cockatoo’s feeding habitat has been burnt. The black bird with bright red tail feathers, which eats only the seeds from endangered she-oak trees, has now itself been listed as endangered by DEE.
3. Long-Footed Potoroo
The incredibly rare marsupial, found only in Australia, has now likewise had between 50-80% of its habitat destroyed by the bushfires. The tiny animal lives in damp forests on the border between New South Wales and Victoria — an area that has been worst hit by the fires.
4. Hastings River Mouse
These animals are on the brink of extinction because of the Australian wildfires:— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) January 17, 2020
• Kangaroo Island dunnart
• glossy black cockatoo
• Hastings River mouse
• eastern bristlebird
• greater glider https://t.co/SW7WL8fF4D
With over 50% of its habitat impacted by the fires, surviving hastings river mice are now vulnerable to starvation, a lack of vegetation cover, and being eaten by foxes or feral cats. The mammals, known for their rounded nose and prominent eyes, are listed as vulnerable in Queensland and endangered nationally.
Thanks to generous donations from local and international animal lovers — plus a $50 million AUD pledge from the government — the scientific community and wildlife rescue organizations are able to work to identify and save animals whose populations have all but disappeared.
WIRES, Australia’s largest wildlife rescue and rehabilitation charity, said the international support has been “astounding.”
“Seeing so many people rally together for the sake and livelihood of our native wildlife and to help preserve their longevity and habitats has meant so much. Words really can’t describe it,” WIRES CEO Leanne Taylor told Global Citizen. “The allocation of donations received by WIRES will be used to assist as many animals as possible across our nation — we will allocate funding and support to all Australian states and territories where needed to assist animals affected by this crisis.”