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Study: Nearly 3 Billion Animals Harmed in Australian Wildfires

Adelaide wildlife rescuer Simon Adamczyk is seen with a koala rescued at a burning forest near Cape Borda on Kangaroo Island, southwest of Adelaide, Australia. (Credit: AAP Image/David Mariuz)
Study: Nearly 3 Billion Animals Harmed in Australian Wildfires
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The World Wildlife Fund for Nature - WWF - reports that nearly 3 billion animals were killed or displaced by Australia’s wildfires in 2019 and 2020. The number, reported in late July, was about three times higher than an earlier WWF estimate.

A team of 10 scientists studied more than 11 million hectares of Australia’s countryside to create the latest estimate.

In total, the wildfires affected about 143 million mammals, 2.46 billion reptiles, 180 million birds and 51 million frogs, the WWF said. The group noted that koalas, kangaroos and other native animals were among the affected wildlife.

“This ranks as one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history,” said WWF-Australia Chief Executive Officer Dermot O’Gorman.

The WWF said it used different methods to estimate wildlife populations, including information from over 100,000 studies. The scientists created models to estimate the number of creatures found in areas destroyed by fire.

Project leader Lily Van Eeden from the University of Sydney said the research was the first continent-wide examination of animals affected by wildfires. “Other nations can build upon this research to improve understanding of bushfire impacts everywhere,” she said.

The total includes wildlife that fled destroyed habitats. These creatures faced a lack of food and shelter or the likelihood of moving into already occupied habitats.

Researchers said the destruction will cause some species to become extinct before their existence is even recorded.

“We don’t even know what we are losing,” said Chris Dickman, a professor of ecology at the University of Sydney. He spoke to Reuters news agency. “These were species that were here and now they have gone... It’s almost too tragic to think about,” Dickman added.

The WWF report calls for improvements in habitat connectivity to help species escape from fires. It also calls for identifying and protecting habitat that was not burned to help save threatened species. An expanded report on the study is expected later this year.

The wildfires started in September 2019 and continued through March of this year. Scientists say the fires were fueled by higher than normal temperatures and years of drought in the Australian bush. The fires caused 34 human deaths and destroyed nearly 3,000 homes.

The WWF said that over the past year, it had raised money from donors to deploy emergency aid to the front lines of the fires to help injured and displaced wildlife.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Reuters reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the report for VOA Learning English, with additional information coming from the WWF. was the editor.

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Words in This Story

rank – v. give someone a position on a list of things in order of importance

impact – n. effect on something

habitatn. the natural environment of an animal or plant

species – n. a group of animals or plants that are similar and can produce young animals or plants

extinct – adj. no longer existing in nature

drought n. a period of extended dryness caused by a lack of rain

front lines – n. a position of direct and important influence