By Alexis Cope
An injured koala called Paul being treated at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital (Getty images)
Australia is on fire.
The blaze that’s big enough to see from space (yes, really–NASA even released pictures) has been burning for weeks, with no sign of stopping now, covering the nation’s entire east coast — specifically New South Wales and Queensland. The fires have so far claimed six lives, destroyed nearly 700 homes, and affected 5.1 million acres of Australian bush. It recently has been moving closer to Sydney, closing the city’s ferries and businesses and covering everything in a heavy blanket of ash and smoke.
But that’s not all it’s doing. Australia’s native and unique wildlife, along with their habitats, are being burned right along with everything else, and koalas, in particular, are at risk because of their dependency on trees. It’s been estimated that around 2,000 koalas have been killed by the fires, and nearly 75% of their habitat destroyed. And while koalas aren’t technically listed as endangered by the Australian state, their numbers have been hit hard and dwindling for the last century, and this slew of bushfires could be the very thing that knocks down them down at last.
Over the course of 2019 species such as, among many others, the Spix Macaw, the Northern White Rhinoceros, the Golden Toad, and Zanzibar Leopard were recorded as extinct. All of these were indigenous animals, hailing from every corner of the world, from Tanzania to Costa Rica; they all played critical roles in their respective environments and food chains, acting as predators or prey or even both. Now that they’ve been wiped out, their environments have been unhinged, thrown off balance. And there is nothing we can do to bring them back.
If this same thing were to happen with koalas, another indigenous species, we would lose much more than a cute face. We’d lose an extremely important link in Australia’s delicate balance of life, altering the continent forever. Altering it in such a way it might not recover, affecting many other species living there, plants and animals alike.
So Australia’s bushfires, while an ocean away, are actually a very big deal. There’s more at stake here than just a few trees; there are millions of trees, thousands of animals, whole ecosystems, and now even cities on the line here.
Our world is burning. From California to the Amazon rainforest, and now Australia, our planet is being destroyed. Whether by the negligence of citizens and national leaders alike or simply because of the recent extreme draughts, it is burning.
Want to help? There’s actually quite a bit you can do.
To help with current fires, donate money to animal refuges and wildlife hospitals helping to treat and care for the injured animals through their established GoFundMe pages and websites. Port Macquarie Koala Hospital could especially use help; the money they raise will fund koala recovery and rehabilitation. The Rescue Collective is also raising funds and beginning a goods drive to help rescue and care for other affected wildlife.
Perhaps even more important than donating funds is acting to lower the risk of more wildfires. While it’s true that we can’t control everything that could cause another round of destructive fires, such as weather or climate or even simply other people, playing your part can and always will help. Don’t leave campfires, cigarettes, fireworks, or any kind of lit fire burning outside when you are not supervising it. Make sure you completely extinguish any flame before leaving it. Do not build a large fire when you are around trees, and especially not when you are near brush or dry grasses.
Simply put, be responsible when using fire. We all love a good night roasting s’mores over a campfire, but we have to remember it is just that. It’s an extremely dangerous thing if not handled carefully. It’s something that, if you neglect to take care of correctly, could send the next forest up in scorching flames.