Update: In a staggering new report from the University of Sydney on Wednesday, it's now estimated that 800 million animals in New South Wales are dead, and 1 billion animals nation-wide. This is double of the original estimate of animals that were endangered by the fires, and includes all reptiles, mammals, and birds.
This story was originally published on January 6, 2020.
The particularly brutal wildfire season has wreaked havoc on the continent, with millions of acres of land destroyed and 24 people confirmed dead so far and 64 brush fires remain uncontrolled. While an estimated 2,700 firefighters continue to battle the flames, the ecological disaster they have wrought is poised to generate ripple effects that grip the country for decades to come, serving as a major reminder for the climate disaster we currently face.
Many of the star-studded event’s attendees spoke to the catastrophic environmental impacts of the unfolding disaster — including Russell Crowe who, despite electing to stay in his native Australia for the awards ceremony, enlisted Jennifer Aniston to deliver a statement by proxy to say that “the tragedy unfolding in Australia is climate-change based.”
"We need to act based on science, move our global workforce to renewable energy and respect our planet for the unique and amazing place it is,” Crowe said. “That way we all have a future.” And Crowe's point extends beyond just the human population — many animals, especially those native to Australia, are in serious danger as the ongoing rescue efforts have limited resources.
Koalas and kangaroos in particular — the unofficial mascots of Australia — have proven to be compelling motivators when it comes to mobilizing the global community to donate to emergency fundraisers aimed at financing relief efforts on the continent.
On Sunday, video of the cuddly marsupials piled dead along a burning highway in NSW went viral on Twitter. Other similarly grim videos and pictures showed badly burned and dehydrated koalas, wrapping themselves around volunteer rescuers and being bottle-fed water by firefighters. Experts estimate that the Koala community has been uniquely hard-hit, with a fire on Kangaroo Island — previously considered a koala safe-haven — being described as “virtually unstoppable” by firefighters battling the blaze over the weekend.
As the fires continue, though, it's more important than ever to draw attention to the animal populations at risk. Those hoping to donate to efforts to help preserve koala populations can give to a University of Sydney-backed fundraiser to establish more drinking stations in Australia’s eastern states, as well as to a GoFundMe benefitting the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, which is currently rehabilitating 31 displaced koalas.