The distressing new estimate considers animals killed in the fires and those that will die from indirect causes, like starvation and dehydration

By Kelli Bender
January 08, 2020 02:21 PM

According to Today, over 1 billion animals are feared dead due to Australia’s raging wildfires, which have been burning through the country since September of last year.

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. To Dickman, this means the overall animal death toll in the whole of Australia is probably over one billion.

“I think there’s nothing quite to compare with the devastation that’s going on over such a large area so quickly. It’s a monstrous event in terms of geography and the number of individual animals affected,” Dickman told NPR, according to a statement from the University of Sydney.

Dickman, like other experts, worries what this could mean for the future of several species in Australia.

“We know that Australian biodiversity has been going down over the last several decades, and it’s probably fairly well known that Australia’s got the world’s highest rate of extinction for mammals. It’s events like this that may well hasten the extinction process for a range of other species,” Dickman said

Credit: SAEED KHAN/AFP/Getty

He added that this devastating loss is a warning sign of what could be in the future for other parts of the world: “What we’re seeing are the effects of climate change. Sometimes, it’s said that Australia is the canary in the coal mine with the effects of climate change being seen here most severely and earliest … We’re probably looking at what climate change may look like for other parts of the world in the first stages in Australia at the moment.”

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Dickman reached his new, distressing figure by analyzing a “2007 report for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) on the impacts of land clearing on Australian wildlife in New South Wales,” reports the University of Sydney. The report considered mammals (excluding bats), birds and reptiles and did not include frogs, insects or other invertebrates in their findings. Additionally, the report “employed highly conservative estimates in making their calculations,” which means that the final number of animals killed by the wildfires could be substantially higher than Dickman’s new estimate.

In his estimate, Dickman, who “has over 30 years of experience working on the ecology, conservation and management of Australian mammals,” considered animals killed in the fires and those who are likely to die due to indirect causes, like starvation due to lack of resources and habitat loss.

If Australia’s wildlife is to rebound from this heartbreaking loss, Dickman says ecologists need to be involved in the policymaking that affects conservation and the response to climate change.

Credit: JAMES ROSS/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

“I think there is a feeling among environmental scientists and ecologists in Australia that we’ve been frozen out of the debate, certainly out of policymaking. I think it’s now time to bring the scientists back into the tent to look at what is likely to be happening over the next few decades and to think about how we can maintain both the human community in good health and as much biodiversity as can be retained under this evolving situation,” he said.

To learn more about how you can help the people and animals of Australia, click here.