Australia Bushfires Endanger Native Animals


(c) Martin Pelanek

Macropus giganteus - Eastern Grey Kangaroo, standing close to the fire in Australia. Burning forest in Australia.

Lili Gadret

Fire was first discovered by the collision of two rocks and was used for warmth and to cook food. But as human inventions have evolved, fires have too, into a dangerous force that needs to be treated cautiously. While fire has always been transformative — and often dangerous — to the environment, with the recent active spread of broad fires across the world, many animals are getting close to extinction, and homes and forests are being burned down. 

Australia is one of those regions strongly affected by bushfires recently. Following the Amazon fires, Australia was next in line, and the world has no idea where the next spark will land. These fires can cause significant damage to ecosystems.  

An estimated billion animals have died due to the Australia wildfires, and some of the native species are on the path to extinction. If these fires don’t get put out, more and more species will be gone forever, and more land could become uninhabitable. 

Fires begin in different ways, but in the case of Australia, the bushfires began from ocean circulation, years of drought, and climate change, according to Umair Irfan, writing in Vox. Australia is prone to fires starting at any time and any place, but Eastern Australia is where most fires have begun and continue to spread.

Global warming has had a large effect and contribution to many fires around the world, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Though there is no direct correlation between global warming and the ignition of particular fires, climate change has brought major droughts and heat waves to Australia the fires have progressively gotten worse. Global warming is, in fact, going to affect the regrowth of forests. 

Australia, considered its own continent, has about 3 million square miles. Of this, 32,400 square miles have burned, which is equivalent to one percent of the land and includes bushland, forests, and national parks, according to CNN. Australia’s people, animals, and the overall environment have been strongly affected by this disaster. 

According to The Guardian, the animals include birds (Regent Honeyeater, Northern Eastern Bristlebird, and Western Ground Parrot); reptiles (Southern Corroboree Frog, Blue Mountains Water Skink); and mammals (Quokka, Kangaroo Island Dunnart, and Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby). Bats, frogs, and insects are not included in the counts of dead animals, which means there is even more than what has been accounted for. Until the fires are put out, there is no way to have exact numbers of the total animals that have died, just an estimate.  

There are serious concerns about how Australia will come back from this tragedy. Australia has the highest rate of species loss around the world, and these numbers could continue to rise.  

The koala, a species native to Australia, has lost one-third of its population due to the fires. As many as possible are being saved, but some injuries caused by the fires are “too extensive to survive,” according to Fox News. Some species don’t die from the flames or smoke, but instead from what the fires bring after dying down. After a fire is put out, loss of vegetation can expose soil to erosion, or water runoff can increase and end up causing flooding. “The sediments may move downstream and damage houses or fill reservoirs putting endangered species and community water supplies at risk,” according to the U.S. Forest Service website.

The priority after a fire is emergency stabilization of soil to ”prevent further damage to life, property or natural resources.” The stabilization process starts right away and lasts up to a year. The longer-term recuperation process of a forest takes several years to go back to normal and to be in good health. Only areas with serious concerns of rehabilitation are worked on to make sure the land is able to recover from wildland fire damage, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

Kangaroos and koalas are not in danger of going extinct because of the blazes. But some animals are not quite as lucky, such as those that live in niche environments and have a very small population to begin with. According to the Nature Conservancy, species such as Black-flanked Rock-wallaby, Eastern Curlew, Gouldian Finch, Northern Quoll, and Black-footed Tree-rat could be going extinct or are already extinct. 

For an animal to be completely extinct, it must go through a series of steps, but over time, if the populations keep migrating due to fire, drought, etc., then there will be no animals left of that species. According to the website Wonderopolis, some causes for extinction are a changing environment and predators — hunting and land development can often lead to the loss of animals in a very short period of time. 

The extinction of an animal can have several causes, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, such as the present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; and overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes. It can also be caused by disease or predation; the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; or other natural or manmade factors affecting its survival.

For these animals to recover, it all depends on the size of the population that is still here after the fires. The condition of their habitat also either helps or worsens the recovery of a species.  For areas with high-altitude alpine regions, the recovery will be much longer as the plants will take far longer to grow back. Even if the habitat that specific animals lived in grows back and is safe to live in, some animals never return.  

Animals have evolved to deal with fires, but it has been much more difficult for them through the interference of humans. Because of the drought prior to the fires, the animals were already stressed, and with humans taking over a lot of the animals’ habitat over time, animals cannot find new places to live after incidents such as destructive fires. For example, the flying fox population has dramatically dropped. They were already beginning to drop in numbers before the start of the fires, so the numbers can only be worse now.  

The vicious cycle of habitats being burned down and animals leaving them even though the habitats need them is only making these fires more catastrophic. If one species that helps keep forest soil healthy is affected by the fires, this affects overall forest health because some plants cannot regenerate. This can then kill off other species that feed on the vegetation. If the balance of an ecosystem is disrupted, everything is affected.  

Some of the native animals are on the path to being endangered, and if there are no changes, they could be gone forever. Another thing is that there is a possibility they could never breed after this event. If nothing is done to save the country’s land and living organisms, there will be serious consequences to suffer that might not be resolvable anymore.  

Many people across Australia are volunteering to help as much as possible to save animals, homes, people, and habitats. According to BBC News, firefighters across Australia are “spraying water and fire retardant from planes and helicopters as well as from the ground.” In the case of the bushfires, the focus is not as much on putting out the fires but more on preventing the flames from spreading more. The priority is always saving lives, not land. Many volunteers are coming from other parts of Australia and the world, outnumbering the firefighters.  

With Australia’s fires occurring now, the Amazon fires from a few months ago, and the ongoing California wildfires, it is clear that these sorts of natural disasters can happen anywhere. In times like this when people in another part of the world are going through a difficult situation, they need help. According to The New York Times, ways to help include donating to trustworthy organizations, bringing attention to the situation, and creating fundraisers with GoFundMe or Facebook.