The number of wildlife estimated to have died in Australia’s wildfire catastrophe has skyrocketed to more than 1 billion, according to wildlife experts.
The report came as firefighters raced to quell massive bushfires in southeastern Australia yesterday, taking advantage of a brief drop in temperatures and some much-needed rainfall before another heatwave strikes later this week.
Chris Dickman, an ecologist at the University of Sydney, told HuffPost that his original estimate of 480 million animals was not only conservative, it was also exclusive to the state of New South Wales and excluded significant groups of wildlife for which they had no population data.
“The original figure of 480 million was based on mammals, birds and reptiles for which we do have densities, and that figure now is a little bit out of date. It’s over 800 million given the extent of the fires now in New South Wales alone,” he said.
“If 800 million sounds a lot, it’s not all the animals in the firing line,” he added.
That figure excluded animals including bats, frogs and invertebrates. With these numbers included, Dickman said, it was “without any doubt at all” that the losses exceeded 1 billion. “Over a billion would be a very conservative figure,” he said.
An environmental scientist at the World Wildlife Fund Australia, Stuart Blanch, confirmed these estimates, reiterating that, given the expansion of the fires since the last calculations, 1 billion was a modest guess.
“It’s our climate impact and our obsession with coal that is helping wage war on our own country,” Blanch said.
Critically endangered species, including the southern corroboree frog and mountain pygmy-possum, could be wiped out as fires ravage crucial habitat in Victoria’s Alpine National Park and New South Wales’s neighboring Kosciuszko National Park.
Koalas have lost more than 30% of their key habitat in New South Wales and may have lost a third of their population in that region, said government source last month.
The University of Sydney’s animal loss estimates also exclude livestock, which federal agriculture minister Bridget McKenzie expects will exceed 100,000 animals.
The fires across Australia have killed 25 people, destroyed or damaged more than 2,000 homes and burned nearly 31,000 square miles -- an area about the size of Austria.