Australian Photographer Reveals 'Heartbreaking' Story Behind Viral Image of Kangaroo Killed in Fires
"Everything was so still, dry, and hot. There was no fire. There was no movement," photographer Brad Fleet says of the graphic scene
A gut-wrenching photo showing a dead kangaroo that was trapped on a fence and sadly burned to death has become one of the most powerful images to come out of the Australian bushfires.
The graphic shot of what appears to be a very young kangeroo, captured by The Advertiser photographer Brad Fleet, is a horrifying depiction of the devastation caused by the fires, which experts believe have claimed the lives of more than one billion animals.
In the photo, which was shared on Fleet’s Instagram, the joey appears to have been trying to escape through a fence when the flames came through, paralyzing the marsupial in its tracks — its arms still wrapped around the charred wires.
Fleet tells PEOPLE he was covering the devastation of the Cudlee Creek fire in Adelaide Hills, South Australia on Jan. 1 when he came across the disturbing sight.
“It was overwhelmingly devastating,” he recalls. “The kangaroo was like a statue. It was difficult to photograph, not just because of the scene, but because it was hard to see. It blended into the background because everything was black and brown and covered in ash.”
Fleet described the scene as eerily quiet, aside from the wind which he said was blowing the burnt leaves around in the torched valley.
“It was a heartbreaking scene,” he says. “Everything was so still, dry, and hot. There was no fire. There was no movement. The kangaroo looked frozen in time, more like a volcano had erupted than a fire had swept through.”
“I don’t remember hearing any birds and you couldn’t see any other life. At times, you could smell other animals that had been killed,” Fleet explains. “It looked like it was a quick struggle, but the reality is you don’t know how far the kangaroo had been chased up the valley by the fire before it was overcome. You don’t know how long it was trying to cross the fence.”
Since September, at least 25 people have been killed from the bushfires while a whopping 12 million acres have been wiped out with hundreds of homes and buildings destroyed, as well. A seven-day state of emergency was declared on Dec. 23.
RELATED VIDEO: Mob of Kangaroos Rush to Escape Fires Raging in Southern Australia
On Wednesday, ecologists from the University of Sydney said over 1 billion animals, including mammals, birds, and reptiles, are feared dead from the crisis.
This bleak estimate, which doubles the death count experts predicted weeks ago, comes from Chris Dickman, a professor of ecology at the University of Sydney, who adjusted his earlier estimate of 480 millions animals killed by the fires in just New South Wales — a southeastern Australian state greatly affected by the brushfires — to 840 million.
Because of these large numbers, Fleet believes his photo is resonating with people more than his previous work ever has.
“I haven’t taken an image that has reached more people,” he explains. “I understand its significance and people are relating to it because of the massive amount of wildlife that has been killed.”
The photographer says his image has been used by several bushfire funds, including the SA Country Fire Service, in order to raise millions of dollars and encourage further donations — something he hopes will continue.
With the fires predicted to rage on for several months, Fleet says he can only question what’s in store for his country, its wildlife, and the future generations.
“The great tragedy is still yet to come for Australia’s wildlife that has survived the fires,” he says. “It is the start of summer and traditionally our hottest months are yet to come. There is nothing left for the animals to eat, and with very little rainfall predicted, they will starve. It is an absolute disaster.”
“The time to stop debating climate change has arrived,” he continues. “While politicians and the public waste time on this argument, the world gets warmer. I have never experienced so many extremely hot days in my life, what are my children going to face in theirs?”