Nearly three billion animals were killed or displaced in Australia’s devastating bush fires of 2019 and 2020, according to an interim report entitled Australia’s 2019-20 Bushfires; The Wildlife Toll. The figure in the interim report is almost three times of an earlier estimate released in January.
The interim report commissioned by the World Wide Fund for Nature said that 143 million mammals, 2.46 billion reptiles, 180 million birds and 51 million frogs would have killed in one of the worst bush fires.
It said that all the animals would not have been killed by the fire but they might have died as a result of injuries or later stress and deprivation as a result of crowding into remaining unburnt habitats.
The WWF said that the results in the interim report were preliminary in nature and the final report would be released by the end of August 2020.
In January, the WWF said that 1.25 billion animals – mammals, birds and reptiles – were impacted by Australia’s bushfire disaster.
Meanwhile, WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman said that it was hard to think of another event anywhere in the world in living memory that has killed or displaced that many animals. “This ranks as one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history,” he said. .
The report said that Australia experienced more than 15,000 fires in 2019-20 that had an impact over an area of up to 19 million hectares. The worst hit region was Eastern Australia, which saw 12.6 million hectares containing primarily forest and woodland burning.
The report was prepared by ten scientists from the University of Sydney, Charles Sturt University, BirdLife Australia, University of Newcastle, and University of New South Wales. At least 13 additional scientists provided data and feedback on the study.
The scientists said that they had certain limitations to accurately estimate the impacts of the bushfires, including mortality. They said that they had limited data on animal densities, variable impacts of fire and different species’ ability to survive fire and interaction between impacts of fire and other threats which affect species ability to survive and recover
In the report, the scientists made the following recommendations to improve monitoring and management of future bushfires and their impacts on biodiversity:
- Adequately fund appropriate long term monitoring research that will address knowledge gaps on wildlife densities and responses to fire;
- Develop standard national methodologies for surveying and modelling animal densities for all taxon groups;
- Improve habitat connectivity to ensure access to fire refuges for mobile species;
- Identify and protect unburnt habitat which is critical habitat for threatened species recovery and build fire recovery into species Recovery Plans under the EPBC Act;
- Establish improved fire prevention and management practices;
- Establish rapid response teams that will act to mitigate impacts on threatened species and ecosystems when fires occur, including both in situ and ex situ approaches.