Half a Billion Animals Have Been Killed in Australian Bushfires as Crisis Worsens and Threatens to Wipe Out Entire Species

WIRES volunteer and carer Tracy Burgess holds a severely burnt brushtail possum rescued from fires near Australia’s Blue Mountains

Nearly half a billion animals in Australia’s New South Wales state have been killed by raging wildfires in the last couple months, and the devastating death toll is expected to rise.

Roughly 480 million mammals, birds and reptiles have been affected since bushfires started in September, according to ecologists from the University of Sydney, who add that the actual number is likely much higher.

Wildfires have turned southeast Australia into a charred, apocalyptic nightmare as the country copes with a devastating fire season that is expected to grow worse as the summer months continue. Record high temperatures and drought exacerbated by climate change have ignited blazes that have destroyed more than 1,000 homes and nine million acres and killed 18 people.

The blazes, expected to be the worst yet this weekend, threaten to erase entire species in Australia, which already has the highest rate of extinction in the world.

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Pictures and images on social media show charred koalas receiving medical attention, bodies of dead animals lying on the ground and kangaroos desperately running from blazes. Experts say the fires have likely killed millions of animals including koalas, wallabies, wombats and kangaroos.

“Many of the affected animals are likely to have been killed directly by the fires, with others succumbing later due to the depletion of food and shelter resources and predation from introduced feral cats and red foxes,” the University of Sydney ecologists said in a statement on Friday.

Roughly 34 species and subspecies of native mammals have become extinct in Australia over the last 200 years.

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SOURCE: CNBC, Emma Newburger