Koalas in Crisis: Australian Wildfires Ravage a Vulnerable Population


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Female Phascolarctos cinereus

Reya Mehta , Staff Writer

   Since mid-September 2019, over 100 wildfires have raged in Australia, killing more than 33 people. These fires have been a huge humanitarian and environmental disaster as over 12.35 million acres of land have burned, destroying the homes of people and killing one billion animals, according to the BBC.

   Koalas are especially affected by these horrible fires. Because they are physically incapable to outrun or find shelter from the growing flames, it has been estimated by CBS News that about one third of the endangered population has died in the bushfires. While koalas are not yet functionally extinct, they’re only a step above dying out completely. 

   With the wildfires leaving only 5% of the population, it’s unknown whether their numbers will ever recover.

   As worry for the country increases, many have criticized Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s slow response. In December, Morrison took a family vacation to Hawaii while fires burned in his county. In a viral video, he can be seen grabbing the hand of a woman affected by the fires who was reluctant to interact with him, causing some to believe that all he cared about in the moment was a photo opportunity.

   After viewing footage online of people driving past animal carcasses along the road and of damage done to properties, many have been left wondering what can be done to salvage what’s left of the Australian landscape.

   The beautiful landscape is being mutilated by the damage. However, in a twist of fate, heavy rains recently plagued Australia. Sydney received over 250 mm (9.8 in) of rain in January, and about one-third of the fires have been extinguished due to this seemingly good fortune. 

   Though the rain has been pivotal in the fight against Australia’s bushfires, it has been extremely detrimental to the wildlife due to extreme flooding. The Guardian reports that over 100,000 cattle have already died in tragic floods in Queensland. The floods have also left wildlife in disarray, with kangaroos slung in trees and koalas drowned in silt. 

   Not all hope is lost, however. Many organizations are focused on helping the firefighters, animals and all of those affected.

   The New South Wales organization, Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service Inc. (WIRES), is accepting donations to rescue afflicted animals, and the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital is also in need of donations to build enclosures for the koalas and flying squirrels they’ve been taking in. 

   While these are just two programs in the midst of many, anything counts in the effort to defeat the Australian wildfires. Any support is appreciated, no matter who it comes from.