Up to 350 koalas may have been killed in bushfires near Port Macquarie, but even more could die in the aftermath

Posted by admin | November 22nd, 2019

As many as 350 koalas are estimated to have died in fires that tore through the Port Macquarie region, decimating the habitat in an area home to one of the state’s biggest koala populations.

Firefighters are still battling bushfires across NSW including the north coast where three people have died and at least 150 homes were destroyed over the past four days.

The blaze devastated the Lake Innes Nature Reserve, which was home to a colony of up to 600 koalas.

“We think most of the animals were incinerated — it’s like a cremation,” Koala Conservation Australia president Sue Ashton told The Sydney Morning Herald.

“They have been burnt to ashes in the trees.”

Rescuers reportedly managed to find 16 injured koalas, which were taken to Port Macquarie’s Koala Hospital for treatment over the weekend.

Photos show koalas with burnt feet and hands, as well as burns and singeing to the body.

It’s hoped that more koalas will be found in the coming days and the organisation is encouraging people to take injured wildlife to the hospital.

While hundreds of koalas are believed to have died so far during the fires, the death toll is expected to climb further in the aftermath as more koalas perish due to lack of food.

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“Even if an animal survives the fire, then they’ll starve to death,” Australian Koala Foundation chair Deborah Tabart OAM told news.com.au.

She said the most recent koala deaths threatened an Australian icon that is already “functionally extinct”.

“Functionally extinct means that a koala living today might have one joey and that joey may or may not have a joey, if they don’t, that’s functionally extinct,” Ms Tabart said.

“We think there’s no more than 16-18,000 koalas in the whole of NSW … so to lose a population of that size in a stronghold is disastrous.”

Mapping from the Australian Koala Foundation shows the areas of NSW where fires are currently raging is thought to be home to thousands of koalas.

The map shows the estimated population of the marsupials, their remaining available forest and woodland habitat in green, and areas where their preferred Eucalyptus trees have been cleared in brown, an area likely much larger now after the fires burned through previously habitable areas.

Koalas are currently listed only as “vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, but the Union cites an estimated population of between 100,000 and 500,000, a number that hasn’t been reassessed in more than five years.

Ms Tabart said she’d been fobbed off by the Union when raising the same issue in the past.

“I wrote to them a few months ago, they said they’d review it again in ten years,” Ms Tabart said, adding she’s ready to show them the foundation’s research whenever they like.

“Why don’t IUCN not come to us? They’re huge bureaucracies. They’ve never been to the bush, they don’t want to go because there’s no airconditioning,” Ms Tabart said.

The IUCN is yet to provide a response to questions put forward by news.com.au.

fundraising page for the koalas impacted by the fires, notes that the group of koalas found in the region are one of the most genetically diverse groups in Australia.

It suggested that people could help surviving koalas and other wildlife by providing access to water to reduce further deaths from dehydration.

Further hot winds and temperatures in the 30s are forecast for Monday in the major fire zones in the Clarence Valley and mid-north coast including Port Macquarie and Glen Innes.

The worst could still be to come, with a “catastrophic” fire danger in place for the Sydney and Hunter regions today.

A total fire ban has been issued state wide in Qld and NSW, and more than 600 schools are closed.

<p><a=href https://www.news.com.au/technology/science/animals/up-to-350-koalas-may-have-been-killed-in-bushfires-near-port-macquarie/news-story/bdd1d00aef73bb803fc253a985704d25>Read original article</a></p>

 

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