Australia has been on fire since September 2019, and a total of 15.6 million acres have burned down across the continent as a result. Although Australia typically has a fire season each year, this has been the worst fire on record, and there is still no end in sight. In fact, the blaze has gotten so bad that a group of firefighters from the U.S. and Canada flew to Australia on January 9th to help their Australian counterparts.
While you may have seen photos of koalas being rescued from the fire, or a satellite image of the fires from space, not everything published on social media has been accurate. Here’s everything you should know about the Australian wildfires:
The Fire Is a Consequence of Climate Change
Although Australia has an annual wildfire season, the brush fires this year have been labeled as the worst in history; both New South Wales and Victoria have declared states of emergency for their residents. The fires broke out during the Australian summer, which is characterized by hot, dry weather, and conditions have been unusually severe this year. This past December, as the fires raged, parts of the country experienced record-breaking temperatures during a heat wave.
Australia is also experiencing one of its worst droughts in decades, making the land and the brush exceptionally dry this year. This creates an ideal environment for fires to break out during lightning storms (although there have also been some confirmed cases of arson), and erratic winds make it nearly impossible to contain the fires. Plus, the lack of rain has made it more challenging for firefighters to quell the fires.
The Fire Has Claimed Human Lives
According to a recent report by CNN, a total of 27 people have died during this fire season. The fires have also left a staggering amount of devastation in their wake. In the last four months, more than 2,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged, as well as over 3,000 buildings. We can only assume that more destruction of life and property will be experienced as there is still no end in sight to these wildfires, and fire season typically runs through February.
The fires have also displaced thousands of people, who have had to evacuate their towns due to the threat of the flames. The BBC recently reported that 1,000 tourists and residents had to be evacuated by the Australian Navy, and that there were still 3,000 people left on the coast waiting to be evacuated.
We’ve Lost A Devastating Number of Animals in the Fire
It is actually painful to type this, but the Washington Post is reporting that roughly 1 billion animals have been lost in the brush fires. They spoke with Manu Saunders, a research fellow and insect ecologist at the University of New England in Armidale who made a point of recognizing that the loss of animal life goes well beyond koalas and kangaroos.
“We’re talking mammals, birds, plants, fungi, insects, other invertebrates, amphibians, and bacteria and microorganisms that are critical to these systems,” Saunders told the Post. He went on to say that even those animals who do survive the fires have higher mortality rates since their habitats are being wiped out. Some species could even face extinction as a result.
Mouse-sized dunnarts, which have been identified as the most special mammal located on Kangaroo Island, were endangered before the fires broke out and might die out as a species; the long-footed potoroo, which sounds like a Dr. Seuss creation but is actually a marsupial, is facing extinction, as well as the glossy black cockatoo. Additionally, Australian federal agriculture officials are reporting that at least 100,000 cattle will die by the time the fires end.
Although koalas and kangaroos seem safe from extinction, because they are more spread out across the country, their populations have also suffered devastating losses. An estimated 30,000 koalas have been injured or perished in the fires. There is little information available about how many kangaroos have been affected by the fires.
How You Can Help
The devastation to the animal population in Australia has been vast, and volunteer organizations can use all the help they can get. If you’re interested in donating to help the people and animals affected by the Australian wildfires, here are a few verified organizations to consider:
Australian Red Cross
You can donate specifically to the Australian Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund, which will help send staff and volunteers to communities affected by the fires. The Australian Red Cross is currently providing support to those who have been displaced by the fires and is providing them with emergency grants to cover their immediate expenses.
GIVIT is an Australian organization that is collecting funds and donated goods for those affected by the fires, such as drinking water, feed for cattle, and clothing. If donating goods is a challenge, due to the distance, the website makes it easy to donate money, promising that 100% of the funds donated will be used to purchase essential items for those impacted by the fires.
NSW Rural Fire Service
The NSW Fire Service is a local fire brigade that is struggling to put out the wildfires in New South Wales. All donations made to the NSW Fire Service through their website “are for the benefit of volunteer brigades and are always gratefully received and are a tremendous help.”
Port Macquarie Koala Hospital
The hospital has been working with the National Parks and Wildlife Service to search for koalas affected by the fires in the Port Macquarie area. So far, over 30 koalas who were injured have been brought to the hospital for care. They currently have a GoFundMe page and have raised over $6 million that will be used to rehydrate the koalas, treat their burns, and establish a breeding program to help repopulate the species.
RSPCA New South Wales
The RSPCA New South Wales has been sending people in to assist evacuation centers in northern NSW and the surrounding area, helping members of the public keep their pets and livestock safe from the fires. They have also been working with Local Land Services, Department of Primary Industries and district veterinarians, to assess the severity of injured animals in active fire zones.
Australian Koala Foundation
The goal of the Australian Koala Foundation is to conserve koalas and their habitat. They allow you to donate generally, but you can also make a donation to adopt a koala, plant a tree to expand their habitat, or purchase something from their koala shop to have all proceeds go back into the organization.
NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service Inc. (or WIRES for short), is one of Australia’s largest wildlife rescue organizations and is providing assistance to the animals in evacuation zones within New South Wales. The WIRES website reports that just this past December the “WIRES 1300 line received over 20,000 calls and volunteers attended over 3,300 rescues” as a result. A donation to WIRES will go towards helping to rescue native animals in distress due to the fires.