The fire, which started in October, has burned through two-thirds of a koala habitat in New South Wales

By Helen Murphy
October 31, 2019 04:03 PM
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Credit: Arterra/UIG via Getty

Hundreds of koalas may have died in Australia this week from bushfires raging across the country.

In a Facebook post from late October, the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie, Australia, shared an update on the fires and explained that more than two-thirds of the current burn area is in “prime koala habitat.”

The hospital also made a conservative estimate that more than 350 koalas likely died in the blaze.

“If we look at a 50 percent survival rate, that’s around about 350 koalas and that’s absolutely devastating,” Port Macquarie Koala Hospital President Sue Ashton told the Associated Press.

“We’re hoping it’s not as bad as that, but because of the intensity of the fire and the way koalas behave during fire, we’re not holding out too much hope,” she continued.

On Friday, Ashton provided another heartbreaking update on the current status of the fires on how they are affecting the local koalas.

“Where we thought we had koalas, we now think they’ve been incinerated,” Ashton told Nine News Australia.

“The fire is so intense that what’s happening is the fire goes through and the little koalas and other wildlife are just burned to pieces and become ash. So it’s absolutely horrific,” she added.

According to CNN, Ashton’s hospital is caring for 12 koalas injured by the fires, which have already burned through two-thirds of New South Wales’ Lake Innes Nature Reserve. Before the fires, the reserve was home to over 600 koalas.

According to the AP, the fires began last Friday after a lightning strike in a forest 190 miles north of Sydney. The outlet reported that the fire has affected almost 5,000 acres so far, and that rescuers hope to start searching the burned habitat for survivors on Thursday.

The AP reports that koalas are able to survive wildfires by climbing into high trees.

The Australian Koala Foundation estimates that there could be as few as 43,000 koalas left in the wild. According to the foundation, the koala population is in decline due to “the effects of habitat destruction, domestic dog attacks, bushfires and road accidents.”

“I think this is just a national tragedy that we potentially have lost an enormous population of animals in the past 24 hours,” Port Macquarie Koala Hospital clinical director Cheyne Flanagan told the Australian Broadcast Corporation.

She added: “Twenty years worth of work at the place. I just feel like walking away, I really do, I’m not going to, but it’s just awful.”