Nearly three billion koalas, kangaroos and other native Australian animals were killed or displaced by bushfires in 2019 and 2020, a study said on Tuesday, triple the previous estimates.
“It’s hard to think of another event anywhere in the world in living memory that has killed or displaced that many animals,” said Dermot O’Gorman, CEO of the Australian branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature, which commissioned the report. “This ranks as one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history.”
The study executed by scientists from several Australian universities said the wildlife hit included 143 million mammals, 2.46 billion reptiles, 180 million birds and 51 million frogs.
While the report did not say how many animals died in the fires, the prospects for those who escaped the flames “were probably not great” due to a lack of food, shelter and protection from predators, said Chris Dickman, one of its authors.
It was the broadest and most prolonged bushfire season in modern Australian history, with scientists attributing to climate change impacts. Scientists say global warming is lengthening Australia’s summers and making them increasingly dangerous, with shorter winters making it more difficult to carry out bushfire prevention work.
An earlier study in January estimated the fires had killed a billion animals in the hardest-hit eastern states of New South Wales and Victoria. But the survey released Tuesday was the first to cover fire zones across the continent.
The plight of Australia’s popular koalas during the fires garnered international media attention, with thousands of the tree-dwelling marsupials believed to have perished.
The fires destroyed more than 11 million hectares across the Australian southeast, nearly half the area of the United Kingdom.