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This December 2019 photo provided by Guy Ballard shows a male brush-tailed rock wallaby eating supplementary food researchers provided in the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park in New South Wales, Australia. Before this fire season, scientists estimated there were as few as 15,000 left in the wild. Now recent fires in a region already stricken by drought have burned through some of their last habitat, and the species is in jeopardy of disappearing, Ballard said. (Guy Ballard/NSW DPI - UNE via AP)

Australia’s fires have pushed as many as 100 threatened species closer to extinction

Australia’s unprecedented wildfires season has so far charred 40,000 square miles of brushland, rainforests, and national parks – killing by one estimate more than a billion wild animals.

Scientists fear some of the island continent’s unique and colorful species may not recover. For others, they are trying to throw lifelines. Where flames have subsided, biologists are starting to look for survivors, hoping they may find enough left of some rare and endangered species to rebuild populations.

It’s a grim task for a nation that prides itself on its diverse wildlife, including creatures found nowhere else on the planet such as koalas, kangaroos and wallabies.

“I don’t think we’ve seen a single event in Australia that has destroyed so much habitat and pushed so many creatures to the very brink of extinction,” said Kingsley Dixon, an ecologist at Curtin University in Perth.

The full toll on Australia’s wildlife includes at least 20 and possibly as many as 100 threatened species pushed closer to extinction, according to scientists from several Australian universities.

“The worry is that with so much lost, there won’t be a pool of rare animals and plants to later repopulate burnt areas,” said Jim Radford, an ecologist at La Trobe University in Melbourne.

The fires could knock out rainforest species dating back to the time of the Gondwana supercontinent, before the modern continents split apart, he said.

Not long after wildfires passed through Oxley Wild Rivers National Park in New South Wales, ecologist Guy Ballard set out looking for brush-tailed rock wallabies. The small marsupials resemble miniature kangaroos with long floppy tails and often bound between large boulders, their preferred hiding spots.

Before this fire season, scientists estimated there were as few as 15,000 left in the wild. Now recent fires in a region already stricken by drought have burned through some of their last habitat, and the species is in jeopardy of disappearing, Ballard said.

In prior years, his team identified a handful of colonies within the national park. After the recent fires, they found smoking tree stumps and dead animals.

Author: AP
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