The silent victims of Australia’s bushfiresBy Rowena Dela Rosa Yoon Jan 09, 2013 3:43PM UTC
The Australian summer is the peak season for bushfires. The CSIRO, a leading scientific body, says bushfires are a natural phenomenon that occur frequently all year round. When the mercury hits over 40 degrees Celsius (140F), the heat ignites wildfires that spread extensively, engulfing farms, forests, homes and wildlife sanctuaries. While many animals survive, bushfires put pressure on many species to the verge of extinction. Plant and trees have more power to regenerate.
Fire authorities across states have issued fire warnings, maps, and precautions. Three states were under red alert early this week: Tasmania, New South Wales, and Victoria. But temperatures dipped on Wednesday easing the fire ban in threatened areas.
However, wildfires have ravaged extensive parts of all three states. Beyond the ashes are the silent victims of the catastrophe – animals and endangered species.
In the past bushfires had left many animals dead, their habitats destroyed. In Victoria, among the endangered species are the state bird emblem, the Helmeted Honeyeater and Leadbeaters Possums. According to Zoo Victoria, the Healesville Sanctuary is still reeling from the effects of Black Saturday in 2009. The Sanctuary itself was under threat and many animals were evacuated. The Vet team worked around the clock treating fire-affected animals in the wildlife hospital and in rescue centres in the community.
In Western Australia, many species of native animals and birds are feared to have been completely wiped out, according to Australian Geographic. Conservationists and animal carers note that populations of highly endangered possums, black cockatoos and other native species may now be locally extinct in the Margaret River, Nannup and Augusta regions. About 90 percent of wildlife in these areas are already presumed extinct.
Another endangered bird is the Red-tailed black cockatoo especially those the endangered Baudin’s red-tailed black cockatoos which are only found WA’s southwest. Their number is estimated to be less than 10,000.
The Wilderness Society has listed top five endangered species which could become extinct in the coming few years. These species are considered the most threatened by the fires: the Leadbeater’s Possum, Sooty Owl, Barred Galaxias, Ground Parrot. and Spotted Tree Frog.
Koalas, kangaroos, sheep, and cattle are not spared from pain and suffering. The Department of Environment and Sustainability works with qualified and experienced wildlife care organisations and rehabilitators to assist with the recovery, treatment, rehabilitation and release of wildlife affected by fire.
Mobile animals, such as birds, kangaroos and wallabies, may be able to move out of burning areas to safer grounds. Other wildlife can take refuge underground, in tree hollows and logs, unburnt patches of vegetation, wet gullies, rocky areas and on leeward slopes.
However, many perish in the fires while some badly burnt animals await DSE ‘s advice for their immediate ‘destuction’. Survivors are treated in vet clinics.
Plant species usually regenerate a few seasons after a bushfire. From the charred tree trunks and ashes from the earth, new life re-emerges. Many plant species resprout from protected buds, at or below ground level, and many others regenerate from soil-stored seed even if the adult plants were killed by the fires.
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