"Being able to treat and help koalas is few and far between because they're basically incinerated, which is absolutely heartbreaking," said Terri Irwin

By Jen Juneau
January 08, 2020 09:28 AM
Advertisement

As wildfires rage on in their native Australia, the Irwin family and their medical team at the Australia Zoo are doing everything in their power to help animals in need.

In an interview earlier this week for the Australian news show Sunrise, Terri Irwin and son Robert Irwin sat down to talk about the devastation and some of the more difficult injuries they’ve seen coming through the zoo.

“[Animals are] getting hit by cars and are being attacked by domestic animals, so there’s a horrific knock-on effect,” said Robert during the conversation, in which the 16-year-old son of the late Steve Irwin got visibly teary-eyed.

“We’re seeing all kinds of different injuries,” he continued. “Obviously smoke inhalation and burns are happening frequently, but also animals are going into areas where they’re not supposed to be to escape the horrific conditions.”

“It’s definitely an ongoing issue and we’re just trying to do our best to help in any way we can,” Robert added. “It’s a pretty tough situation. We’re absolutely heartbroken.”

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE’s free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.

As of Jan. 1, experts said the fires burning across Australia have left an estimated half-billion animals dead.

Ecologists from the University of Sydney believe 480 million total mammals, birds and reptiles have died since September, according to a news.com.au report. That massive number includes a third of the New South Wales koala population, and fatalities are only expected to increase.

Robert (L) and Terri Irwin
Sunrise on 7

“[Koalas’] instinct is to go up — safety’s in the top of the tree,” Terri, 55, said on Sunrise. “And with a hot fire, the eucalyptus trees have so much oil in their leaves that they ignite and actually explode. So being able to treat and help koalas is few and far between because they’re basically incinerated, which is absolutely heartbreaking.”

“Koalas are classed as vulnerable, and I think after this event, we need to really sit down and look at classing them as endangered and protecting our icons,” she added. “Our kangaroos, our koalas, [they are] inspirational to Australians as well as our visitors from overseas.”

RELATED VIDEO: Mob of Kangaroos Rushes to Escape Fires Raging in Southern Australia

Robert, Terri and Bindi Irwin have been open about how much the fires have affected what they do at the zoo on a daily basis, and how much devastation they have seen as of late.

“With so many devastating fires within Australia, my heart breaks for the people and wildlife who have lost so much. I wanted to let you know that we are SAFE,” Bindi shared in an Instagram post on Thursday.

“There are no fires near us @AustraliaZoo or our conservation properties,” the 21-year-old conservationist said, adding that the Wildlife Hospital had been “busier than ever” and treated more than 90,000 patients so far.

“My parents dedicated our Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital to my beautiful grandmother,” Bindi continued, sharing a photo of herself posing in front of a picture of her late father and her grandmother. “We will continue to honour her by being Wildlife Warriors and saving as many lives as we can. ???”