7 Animals That May Be Extinct After the Australia Wildfires
The Australian bushfires have exacted an enormous, irreversible toll on the country's wildlife.
The sixth mass extinction
Things were already looking grim for countless species on our planet. As the Center for Biological Diversity and other science-backed organizations have been pointing out for the last several years, Earth is undergoing the sixth mass extinction since life forms began developing on it an estimated 3.8 billion years ago, with 1,000 species now disappearing per year. But the latest spate of Australian bushfires, which as of this writing had consumed 15.6 million acres, according to the BBC, have significantly upped that ante. Some already-endangered animals are potentially gone forever and at risk of joining these 14 animals that have gone extinct over the past 100 years.
Dunnart (Sminthopsis aitkeni)
The most recent fires have affected an estimated half-billion—you read that right—animals throughout the country, including a tiny marsupial called the dunnart. These mouse-like, insect-eating rarities were already vulnerable due to habitat loss from land being cleared for agriculture. The Kangaroo Island dunnart, found only on Kangaroo Island, had its habitat destroyed by three separate fires as of this writing, according to the Daily Mail, Like other impacted animals, some dunnarts were killed by flames and smoke outright; some will die later, either succumbing to hunger and loss of shelter as the trees and shrubs they rely on were destroyed, or being eaten by feral cats and foxes. Like the dunnart, you can only find these 12 animals in one place in the world.
Long-nosed potoroo (Potorous tridactylus)
Australia already had the highest rate of extinction in the world—34 species and subspecies have gone extinct in the last 200 years, per estimates by Chris Dickman, PhD, an expert on Australian biodiversity at the University of Sydney. And the devastation seems on track to continue with this season's bushfires. The long-nosed potoroo, a type of truffle-eating wallaby that's a denizen of the country's biodiverse forests and was already listed as vulnerable, is of particular concern; October fires wiped out an especially vibrant habitat that succored them in New South Wales, according to Science. No potoroos have been seen in the region since. Meanwhile, fires continue to rage elsewhere around the globe.
Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus)
A November 2019 article in the Guardian provided a critical fact check about claims that these beloved marsupials were "functionally extinct" in the wild; they weren't...at least, not then. In the intervening weeks, 25,000 koalas of a 50,000 koala population on Kangaroo Island—the only disease-free animals left in existence, on which huge hopes for population recovery rested—have died in the fires, reports a more recent Guardian piece. Now, their future is gravely threatened and experts worry their numbers will never recover. Images of burned koalas emerging from the smoke to beg for food and water from passersby have raised an enormous outcry of grief from concerned citizens worldwide. Here's what the Australian bushfires mean for the rest of the world.
Blue mountains water skink (Eulamprus leuraensis)
Australia's peak fire season has another six weeks to go, at least as of early January 2020—climate change makes predictions of seasons highly unstable. The horrific news for the continent's native animal species continues to mount. This medium-size, yellow-striped skink—a type of lizard—was listed as endangered on the Australian government's Office of Environment & Heritage profile back in April 2019. What's become of it now, in the wake of massive fires ravaging it's already minuscule range in the Greater Blue Mountains, is unknown and potentially calamitous. This is what the Amazon jungle looked like before forest fires and other changes.
Regent honeyeater (Anthochaera phrygia)
The Great Blue Mountains have also been called the "final stronghold" for a bird called the regent honeyeater by ecologists. The beautifully black-and-lemon-patterned birds, festooned with small, graceful curved beaks, were already critically endangered going into this current fire season, with only an estimated 250 to 400 of the animals extant in the wild. The vast majority of birds remaining lived in this region just inland from Sydney, Australia's largest city, breeding and feeding on nectar. Fires have destroyed nesting sites in at least five of their home valleys, leading Newsweek to posit that they could be facing "complete eradication." These are 12 more birds you can only find in one place in the world.
Silver-headed antechinus (Antechinus argentus)
Southern Queensland comprises most of the remaining range for this silvery, shrew-like, and endangered carnivorous marsupial. And by early January, the majority of that range had been obliterated by fire. This has dire consequences for the antechinus as well as for all of Australia's animals, as the extensive fires, in opposition to fires of previous years, have left no small patches of un-burnt land that can help species rebound by offering even scant resources—instead wiping out everything in their path in what professor John Woinarski of Charles Darwin University told the Guardian was a "harbinger of a bleak future for our wildlife." In fact, climate change is aggressively, and swiftly, changing life on our planet.
Hip-pocket frog (Assa darlingtoni)
"I think this is the end for a number of species." Grim words indeed from Sarah Legge, researcher with the Australian National University in speaking to the media about the fires' impacts on Australia's animals. One that's known to have no fire-resistance whatsoever is the hip-pocket frog—so named because of a pocket in which the golden-eyed amphibian carries its tadpoles after they hatch. Massive numbers of them are presumed dead in fires that consumed the Gondwana rainforest, where it needs damp leaf litter in order to survive. And, like all animals in this story, the frog requires immediate and decisive interventions from humans to address the climate change that imperils us all, including these 14 animals that could disappear in your lifetime.
Ways you can help Australia
While the situation is devastating and it's easy to feel hopeless in the face of it, there is something you can do. Donating to one of the following worthy and reputable organizations can help in a big way. Each provides much-needed assistance and relief in a different way—from helping affected communities and rescuing koalas to supporting the volunteer firefighters, many of whom are unpaid and have put their own lives on hold to help.
- Victorian Bushfire Appeal, which helps families and communities affected by the fires
- The Australian Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund
- The CFS Foundation of Volunteer Firefighters
- WWF-Australia’s Australian Wildlife and Nature Recovery Fund
- WIRES, an organization committed to helping the wildlife of the country
- The Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital
- Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie NSW
As they say, every little bit helps—and it truly does. Another thing you can do? Visit—yes, now. Your tourism dollars will also help, and vast areas of the continent are unaffected the fires, including these 13 breathtaking places in Australia you can still visit.