Australia wildfires endanger wildlife

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020 at 6:29 PM

Imagine you’re walking down the sidewalk trail at Presque Isle State Park. Along the stone path, animals call the woods and marshes around it home, from the smallest bugs to waterfowl lining the ponds.

The sun brings out the smells of the forest, where various chipmunks, rodents and other creatures from deer to skunks live. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation & Natural Resources, Presque Isle is home to 339 bird species.

Six ecological zones showcase the biodiversity of wildlife. Gull Point is protected as a State Park Natural Area; it’s a sanctuary for birds looking to nest, or rest, before migrating. Similar to Kangaroo Island, Presque Isle is an essential habitat for many species.

And their entire ecosystem can be gone after a simple spark.

Right now, Australia’s raging wildfires wreak destruction upon the animals and habitats that live there. According to The Atlantic, nearly 18 million acres have been affected, with CNN reporting “at least 28 people dead” and more than 3,000 homes destroyed in New South Wales.

Although there have always been bush fires in Australia, this is particularly bad due to the droughts and strong winds. Fire-induced thunderstorms have also been spotted, with storm cells forming due to the smoke and water vapor. 

However, one of the most heartbreaking stories concerns the animals. Australia is home to many species, some of which are endangered. One of the most critical areas is Kangaroo Island. Lying off the coast of South Australia, Kangaroo Island is considered a tourist attraction, but also a wildlife sanctuary. Without a habitat, some of the island’s endangered species could be wiped out.

One of the species at risk is the Kangaroo Island dunnart. It is small: the size of a mouse with large ears and wide black eyes. This is an endangered species and is only found on the Island. Again according to The Atlantic, “fewer than 500 remain,” and it is unknown how many have survived. The same can be said for the birds of the island, including the glossy-black cockatoo.

The Guardian said the bird, “has been the subject of two decades of community conservation work to bring numbers from as low as 150 in the 1990s to as high as 400 in latest counts.” Daniella Teixeria and Dr. Gabriel Crowley, scientists from the University of Queensland, said feeding and breeding areas on the north coast have been lost. 

The Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park has helped animals, with island residents calling in reports of injuries to them. Sam Mitchell, co-owner of the park, said, “residents have been delivering injured animals to them, including about 50 koalas.” Many of them have burns to the hands and feet.

Mitchell went on to explain: “at least a third of what has been brought in we’ve had to euthanize unfortunately. We are seeing many burns to hands and feet — fingernails melted off. For some the burns are too extreme.” I cannot imagine the pain these animals go through; all I can do is hope that for some, their final hours are comfortable.

Many of us have seen the images on the news; ash covered plains and burnt trees, and even the sun is the color of fire through a hazy, smoky sky. Firefighters battling scorching flames, walking among a desolate landscape. The photos that catch my attention the most are rescue workers carrying injured animals to sanctuary and safety, or those scavenging their broken home, looking for any hint of food or shelter, trying to survive in a world they don’t understand.

For the First Nations of Australia, there is a significant impact. In The Guardian, Indigenous affairs editor Lorena Allam recalls her memories of these lands as her home and the feelings of having that taken away. She said, “I’ve watched in anguish and horror as fire lays waste to precious Yuin land, taking everything with it — lives, homes, animals, trees — but for First Nations people, it is also burning our memories, our sacred places, all the things that make us who we are.” These fires are disconnecting people from their families and culture, and this needs to be brought to the attention of the public.

I know that I cannot turn away from the truth, even though it hurts to look. These animals are suffering, they are dying, and some are on the verge of extinction. It would pain me to see Presque Isle go through the same fate. Walking through ash-covered ground, devoid of life and spirit, where the creatures who once called it home no longer walk, is not what I want for future generations.

But there are a few things we can do. Donate and advocate for these animals, and tell others to do so. The Guardian reports that donations to the Wildlife Information and Education Services (WIRES), Wildlife Victoria, the South Australian Veterinary Emergency Management (SAVEM), and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) can help local wildlife. You can also donate directly to state fire services, such as the Royal Fire Service (RFS), the Victoria County Fire Authority (CFA), the County Fire Service Foundation (CFS) and the Western Australia Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES).

We can all make a difference, even an ocean away.

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