Scientist warns of ‘extinction crisis’ as Australia wildfires wipe out a billion animals

Andy Wells
·Freelance Writer

The devastation from the Australia wildfires has reportedly wiped out a billion animals, leading to what one scientist describes as an “extinction crisis”.

Professor Chris Dickman told Metro that the fires mean the total dead could rise in the coming weeks and months, as temperatures in the country start to rise again.

Worse still, Prof Dickman, a leading ecologist from the University of Sydney, believes some species may be wiped out for good due to a lack of wet refuges.

He told the paper: “Some of the species which are of greatest concern already have small populations and restricted geographical distributions…

KANGAROO ISLAND, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 08: An injured koala rests in a washing basket at the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park in the Parndana region on January 08, 2020 on Kangaroo Island, Australia. The Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park positioned on the edge of the fire zone has been treating and housing close to 30 koala's a day. Almost 100 army reservists have arrived in Kangaroo Island to assist with clean up operations following the catastrophic bushfire that killed two people and burned more than 155,000 hectares on Kangaroo Island on 4 January. At least 56 homes were also destroyed. Bushfires continue to burn on the island, with firefighters pushing to contain the blaze before forecast strong winds and rising temperatures return. (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)
An injured koala rests in a washing basket at the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park, on the edge of the fire zone (Getty)
In this Dec. 20, 2019, photo provided by Adam Mudge, koalas sit inside a home in Cudlee Creek, South Australia, after being rescued from fires at a garden. Local firefighters assigned to protect a property from an approaching fire in South Australia on Friday helped a homeowner move koalas into her house to keep them safe from the flames. (Adam Mudge via AP)
Koalas sit inside a home in Cudlee Creek, South Australia, after being rescued from fires at a garden (AP)

“In previous fires that have been less intense, you can expect to find an area around a wetland patch or a swamp, but it’s not clear from what we’re seeing that those refuges will be found.

“We’re desperately hoping they will be. If they’re not it’s going to bad news for a whole range of species.”

Previous estimates of animals killed in the fires were in the range of half a billion, with 8,000 koalas wiped out in New South Wales alone - nearly a third of the total population in the region.

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More koalas – who eat leaves on highly flammable eucalyptus trees – are feared dead in other areas.

Recent video footage showed desperately thirsty koalas clinging to cyclists while being given water to drink, while kangaroos were seen fleeing terrifying walls of fire.

Harrowing images have also showed the cockatoos falling dead out of trees.

In this Jan. 5, 2020, photo provided by the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Capt. Dave Soldavini holds a baby kangaroo that was rescued from a wildfire, in Cobrunga, Australia. The U.S. is planning to send at least 100 more firefighters to Australia to join 159 already there battling blazes that have killed 25 people and destroyed 2,000 homes. (Jeremy McMahon/Bureau of Land Management via AP)
Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Capt. Dave Soldavini holds a baby kangaroo that was rescued from a wildfire, in Cobrunga, Australia (AP)
In this image made from video taken Dec. 21, 2019, kangaroos move as nearby property burn in a fire in Lithgow, New South Wales state, Australia. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday apologized for taking a family vacation in Hawaii as deadly bushfires raged across several states, destroying homes and claiming the lives of two volunteer firefighters.(Australian Broadcasting Corporation via AP)
Kangaroos move as nearby property burn in a fire in Lithgow, New South Wales state (AP)

Residents in the path of wildfires razing southeast Australia have been urged to evacuate as hot and windy conditions are forecast to escalate the danger over the next two days.

The New South Wales Rural Fire Service (RFS) told fire-weary community meetings south of Sydney in the coastal towns of Nowra, Narooma and Batemans Bay that northwesterly winds were likely to once again drive blazes towards the coast.

People on holiday have retreated to beaches and into the ocean in the area in recent weeks as destructive fires and choking smoke encroached on the tourist towns, scorching sand dunes in some places.

KANGAROO ISLAND, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 09: A large smoke plume is seen over a sheep property in the Parndana region on January 09, 2020 in Kingscote, Australia. Residents of the Kangaroo Island township of Parndana and Vivonne Bay have been told to evacuate as bushfire threatens the areas. The fire, which has been burning since last week and claimed two lives, had been downgraded to advice level but has now been upgraded, with watch and act messages current for two separate fire fronts. More than 155,000 hectares of land has been burned on Kangaroo Island since 4 January, and at least 56 homes were also destroyed.  (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)
A large smoke plume is seen over a sheep property in the Parndana region in Kingscote, Australia (Getty)
A firefighter manages a controlled burn near Tomerong, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, in an effort to contain a larger fire nearby. Around 2,300 firefighters in New South Wales state were making the most of relatively benign conditions by frantically consolidating containment lines around more than 110 blazes and patrolling for lightning strikes, state Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons said. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
A firefighter manages a controlled burn near Tomerong, Australia (AP)
This satellite image provided by NASA on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020 shows wildfires in Victoria and New South Wales, Australia.  Australia's prime minister called up about 3,000 reservists on Saturday as the threat of wildfires escalated in at least three states, while strong winds and high temperatures were forecast to bring flames to populated areas including the suburbs of Sydney. (NASA via AP)
This satellite image provided by NASA shows wildfires in Victoria and New South Wales (AP)

In the neighbouring state of Victoria, fire-threatened populations were also urged to act quickly on evacuation warnings.

"We can't guarantee your safety and we don't want to be putting emergency services - whether it be volunteers or paid staff - we do not want to put them in harm's way because people didn't follow advice that was given," Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said.

The unprecedented fire crisis in southeast Australia has claimed at least 26 lives, destroyed more than 2,000 homes and shrouded major cities in smoke.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has come under withering criticism both at home and abroad for downplaying the need for his government to address climate change, which experts say helps supercharge the blazes.

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