- The Australian bushfires destroyed over 28,000 acres of land and the natural habitats of some of the country’s most beloved wildlife.
- As a result, animals like koalas and kangaroos face food shortages, contaminated water, and a lack of family. Wildlife caretakers are stepping in to help.
- Images from an animal carer couple’s home in New South Wales show them feeding and bonding with six kangaroos.
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The devastating bushfires in New South Wales, Australia, have finally all been contained, officials announced Thursday.
The fires, which began in September after a three-year drought, destroyed the natural habitats of some of the country’s most beloved wildlife, including koalas and kangaroos. Authorities in New South Wales and Queensland, areas where the blazes got most severe, declared states of emergency on November 11. The burning hasn’t ceased completely, but rain finally brought relief this week.
One billion animals are feared dead from the blazes.
Emergency-relief workers and animal carers have rescued some of the vulnerable creatures that were left without families, food, or homes. In New South Wales, wildlife carers Gary Wilson and Julie Willis opened their homes to take in injured and orphaned baby animals.
According to Reuters, the partners had been taking care of baby koalas, usually rescued after their mothers were hit by cars, for 25 years. So now they have taken in six young kangaroos struggling to survive because of burns, a lack of food, and ash-polluted water.
“We didn’t have children ourselves; this is what we spend our time doing,” Willis told Reuters. “We think it’s worthy – a worthy cause – looking after our babies no matter what they are, whether they are kangaroos, echidnas or wombats.”
See how the rescued baby kangaroos are adapting to life after the fires.
Many Australians were forced to decide whether to stay in their homes or evacuate because of the fires. For Wilson and Willis, their wildlife-care work was the priority.
“We had way too many animals in the house and around the house so we really couldn’t go … we decided we were going to stay and fight,” Wilson told Reuters.
Wildlife Information, Rescue, and Education Service Inc. (WIRES) — Australia’s largest wildlife rescue organisation — reported that volunteers helped with over 3,300 rescues for sick, injured, and orphaned wildlife.
The group said its rescue line received over 20,000 calls.
Large animals are sometimes able to escape wildfires, but smaller animals often cannot run far or quickly enough, or hide safely from fierce and quick-moving blazes.
Willis told Reuters that she had never seen such powerful fires, and that most animals — such as possums, gliders, echidnas, lizards, and even many birds — were not quick enough to escape.
Kangaroos’ natural habitat in Australia is the open bush. But as humans have cleared brush for agriculture and development, kangaroos and humans have been forced closer together.
Climate change has increased the frequency and severity of fires. This was one of Australia’s worst wildfire seasons ever.
Some ecosystems have natural wildfires. However, as humans thin forests, turn grassland into farms, and build homes in previously untouched areas, landscapes can become more prone to burning.
The Australian bushfires claimed the lives of 27 people and destroyed 2,000 homes.
The isolation of Australia’s ecosystems means many species are unique to the country. Experts fear that up to 1 billion animals might have perished in the fires, including some from threatened and endangered species.
Kangaroos are not endangered — they’re designated at the level of “least concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature because their population is abundant.
They’re the official animal of Australia.
Usually, grey kangaroos leave their mothers’ pouches at around 11 months but continue to suckle until they are as old as 18 months.
In January, a fire ravaged a third of Kangaroo Island, which sits off the coast of South Australia and is home to lots of unique wildlife. Thousands of kangaroos and koalas were thought to be killed.
Experts are still unsure about the fate of a subspecies of glossy black cockatoos that lives on the island. Only about 300 to 370 of the birds remained before the fires.
“This is a national tragedy and a threat to our Australian way of life, in both urban and especially regional communities,” Dermot O’Gorman, CEO of the Australian chapter of the World Wildlife Fund, said in a statement in November 2019.
O’Gorman added that both humans and animals were facing decades-long recoveries.