Nearly 3 billion animals were killed or displaced by Australia’s devastating bushfire season of 2019 and 2020, according to scientists who have revealed for the first time the scale of the impact on the country’s native wildlife.
The Guardian has learned that an estimated 143 million mammals, 180 million birds, 51 million frogs and a staggering 2.5 billion reptiles were affected by the fires that burned across the continent.
Not all the animals would have been killed by the flames or heat, but scientists say the prospects of survival for those that had withstood the initial impact was “probably not that great” due to the starvation, dehydration and predation by feral animals – mostly cats – that followed.
Dermot O’Gorman, WWF-Australia’s chief executive, said: “It’s hard to think of another event anywhere in the world in living memory that has killed or displaced that many animals. This ranks as one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history.”
Chris Dickman, a professor in ecology at the University of Sydney and fellow of the Australian Academy of Science who oversaw the project, said its central finding was a shock even to the researchers. “Three thousand million native vertebrates is just huge. It’s a number so big that you can’t comprehend it,” he said. “It’s almost half the human population of the planet.”
A peer-reviewed study by three ecology professors in June concluded that the fires had caused “the most dramatic loss of habitat for threatened species and devastation of ecological communities in post-colonial history”.