(TMU) — Australia experienced a long and devastating 2019/20 bush fire season which started with several uncontrolled fires in June 2019, reaching its peak in December and January. It was the worst summer fire season in recorded history.
The impact on the environment and wildlife was unprecedented. Last week, locals—and indeed the rest of the world—delighted in the news of the first release of koalas back into the wild.
After being rescued, the koalas were living at Taronga Zoo, before the 13 koalas, including a mom with a tiny joey in her pouch, were released back into their natural habitat in the Blue Mountains last week.
Wildlife conservation non-profit Science for Wildlife, in collaboration with San Diego Zoo Global, rescued a number of koalas ahead of their eucalyptus trees being engulfed by flames.
Their release into Kanangra-Boyd National Park in the state of New South Wale is the first step of a rehabilitation plan in the hope of restoring the koala population in the area which had been decimated by more than 10,000 koalas killed in the fires in the area.
Dr Kellie Leigh, the executive director of Science for Wildlife, said in a statement:
‘’While they have coped well in care we are delighted to finally send our koalas home. We have been busy assessing the burnt area that we rescued them from, to establish when the conditions have improved enough that the trees can support them again.
The recent rains have helped and there is now plenty of new growth for them to eat, so the time is right. We will be radio-tracking them and keeping a close eye on them to make sure that they settle in OK.’’
Taronga Zoo experts treated more than 100 koalas across two hospitals during the bush fire crisis.
Although the coronavirus pandemic has been on the forefront of news and everyone’s minds—and rightly so—scientists have since been able to provide more information on the devastating damage caused by the bushfires. More than 12.6 million hectares across Australia have been burned and released 434 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from September 2019 to February 2020, compared to the 532 million tonnes released by Australian industry during 2018/19, as calculated by senior scientist Mark Parrington from the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) in England, which is the European Union’s Earth Observation Program.
The lives of 34 people were lost during the fires and, according to ecologist Chris Dickman of the University of Sydney, an estimated 1 billion animals died, including terrestrial mammals, birds, and reptiles but excluding bats, frogs, and fish.
“Then if you expand it to include invertebrates … as many as 240 billion have been incinerated by the fires in just New South Wales and Victoria alone,” Professor Dickman said. “So, yes, a billion sounds a big number, but it’s a very conservative one.”