Advertisement

‘Unprecedented’ Australian bushfire season may have impacted half a billion animals: researcher

Click to play video: 'Bushfires in Australia: What ignited the deadly crisis' Bushfires in Australia: What ignited the deadly crisis
WATCH ABOVE: Bushfires in Australia: What ignited the deadly crisis – Jan 3, 2020

The amount of land that has burned during Australia’s bushfire season is now roughly equivalent to the size of Nova Scotia.

And the impact of the fires on animal life is expected to be on a scale that’s difficult to comprehend.

READ MORE:  Here’s where Australia’s wildfires are currently burning

Chris Dickman, an ecology professor with the University of Sydney, initially estimated that 480 million mammals, birds and reptiles have been affected by the wildfires in the state of New South Wales alone since September.

That was more than a week ago — and since then the “unprecedented” blazes have expanded, he said.

“We’re probably looking at much bigger numbers even than that,” he told Global News on Friday.

Story continues below advertisement
Click to play video: 'Australia fires: Strong winds hamper efforts to control flames' Australia fires: Strong winds hamper efforts to control flames
Australia fires: Strong winds hamper efforts to control flames – Jan 4, 2020

The 480 million figure was extrapolated from previous research on land clearing that looked at species density for a range of animals, he explained.

The animals face a range of outcomes — a lot will die immediately due to the heat and flames.

READ MORE: Australia calls on reservists as country faces strong winds fanning raging fires

“These will be some of the more obvious ones, the koalas, kangaroos that are conspicuous,” he said.

Species that can fly or burrow may have better chances for survival, at least initially.

Story continues below advertisement
Click to play video: 'Wildfires prompt one of the largest civilian evacuations in Australian history' Wildfires prompt one of the largest civilian evacuations in Australian history
Wildfires prompt one of the largest civilian evacuations in Australian history – Jan 3, 2020

“The problem for them is that they’ll come out into a landscape where food resources have been greatly reduced, shelter resources will be greatly reduced or non-existent,” he said.

Beyond limited options for food and shelter, he added, smaller animals will face the additional threat of red foxes and feral cats, which are invasive species.

After the bushfires, Dickman said, it will be difficult to accurately assess the state of wildlife because researchers don’t have great baseline data on animal populations.

READ MORE: Australia is on fire, but what’s igniting the blaze?

The fires are a regular occurrence in Australia. This year’s season, however, kicked off early and has been fuelled by drought and extremely high temperatures.

Story continues below advertisement
Click to play video: 'Death toll rises in Australia as bushfires burn at emergency levels' Death toll rises in Australia as bushfires burn at emergency levels
Death toll rises in Australia as bushfires burn at emergency levels – Jan 4, 2020

Twenty four deaths have been linked to the fires, and almost 2,000 homes have been destroyed. Thousands have had to flee to safety.

In total, more than 5.25 million hectares have been burned. By comparison, the area of Nova Scotia is 5.29 million hectares.

Nearly 200 fires remain active — New South Wales and Victoria have been hardest hit overall.

READ MORE: Horse guides Australian fleeing bushfires to safety at pub

Dickman said Australia needs to look at the options for how bushfires are managed in a world that’s “dramatically experiencing” the impacts of climate change.

In addition to policymakers, scientists should be part of the conversation, he said.

Story continues below advertisement

“We do seem to have been excluded from much of the decision-making in Australia over the last several years,” he said.

Kangaroos gather at a residential lawn as bushfires continue to spread, in Berrara Beach, Australia, Dec. 21, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media. Linda Robinson/Reuters

–With files from the Associated Press and Reuters

Sponsored content