World

Thousands of koalas feared dead in Australia wildfires

Thousands of koalas are feared to have died in a wildfire-ravaged area north of Sydney, Australia, while soaring temperatures have increased the fire danger in the country's east.

Fires have destroyed up to 30 per cent of their habitat, environment minister says

A koala receives water from a cyclist during a severe heatwave that hit the region, in Adelaide Hills, South Australia on Friday. (@bikebug2019/Instagram via Reuters)

Thousands of koalas are feared to have died in a wildfire-ravaged area north of Sydney, while the fire danger increased in Australia's east on Saturday as temperatures soared.

The mid-northern coast of New South Wales was home to up to 28,000 koalas, but wildfires have significantly reduced their population in recent months. Koalas are native to Australia and are one of the country's most beloved animals, but they've been under threat due to a loss of habitat.

"Up to 30 per cent of their habitat has been destroyed," Australia's environment minister, Sussan Ley, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "We'll know more when the fires are calmed down and a proper assessment can be made."

Images shared of koalas drinking water after being rescued from the wildfires have gone viral on social media in recent days. "I get mail from all around the world from people absolutely moved and amazed by our wildlife volunteer response and also by the habits of these curious creatures," Ley said.

About 5 million hectares of land have burned nationwide during the wildfire crisis, with nine people killed and more than 1,000 homes destroyed.

Intense heat for the next week

Fire danger in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory was upgraded to "severe" on Saturday as high temperatures built up over the region. Sydney's western suburbs reached 41 degrees Celsius, while the inner city is expected to hit 31 C on Sunday before reaching 35 C on Tuesday.

Two wildfires in New South Wales are at the "watch and act" level issued by fire services.

Rural Fire Service crews engage in property protection of a number of homes along the Old Hume Highway near the town of Tahmoor as the Green Wattle Creek Fire threatens a number of communities in the southwest of Sydney on Dec. 19, 2019. (Dean Lewins/Australian Associated Press via Reuters)

Canberra, Australia's capital, peaked at 38 C on Saturday, with oppressive temperatures forecast for the next seven days.

Meanwhile, New South Wales Emergency Services Minister David Elliott has gone on an overseas family vacation in the wake of Prime Minister Scott Morrison's much-criticized family trip to Hawaii.

Morrison, who apologized for going away, eventually cut short his vacation and returned to Sydney last weekend.

Elliott said he will be briefed daily while overseas. "If the bushfire situation should demand it, I will return home without hesitation," he said.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.