Australian fires claim ‘thousands’ of koalas

A koala receives water from a cyclist during a severe heatwave that hit the region, in Adelaide, South Australia, Australia December 27, 2019 in this image taken from social media. Picture taken December 27, 2019. INSTAGRAM/@BIKEBUG2019/via REUTERS. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

PERTH, Dec 28, 2019, AP. Thousands of koalas are feared to have died in a wildfire-ravaged area north of Sydney, further diminishing the numbers of the iconic marsupial, while the fire danger accelerated Saturday in the country’s east as temperatures soared, Bangkok Post reported.

The mid-north coast of New South Wales was home to up to 28,000 koalas, but wildfires in the area in recent months have significantly reduced their population. Koalas are native to Australia and are one of the country’s most beloved animals, but they have been under threat due to a loss of habitat.

“Up to 30% of their habitat has been destroyed,” Environment Minister Sussan Ley told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. “We’ll know more when the fires are calmed down and a proper assessment can be made.”

Images shared of koalas drinking water after being rescued from the wildfires have gone viral on social media in recent days. “I get mail from all around the world from people absolutely moved and amazed by our wildlife volunteer response and also by the habits of these curious creatures,” Ley said.

About 5 million hectares of land have burned nationwide during the wildfire crisis, with nine people killed and more than 1,000 homes destroyed.

Fire danger in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory was upgraded to severe on Saturday, as high temperatures built up over the region. Sydney’s western suburbs reached 41C on Saturday, while the inner city is expected to hit 31C on Sunday before reaching 35C on Tuesday.

Two wildfires in New South Wales are at the “watch and act” level issued by fire services.

In Canberra, the capital, the temperature peaked at 38C on Saturday, with oppressive heat forecast for the next seven days.

Meanwhile, New South Wales Emergency Services Minister David Elliott has gone on an overseas family vacation in the wake of Prime Minister’s Scott Morrison’s much-criticised family trip to Hawaii recently.

Morrison, who apologised for going away, eventually cut short his vacation and returned to Sydney last weekend.

Elliott said he would be briefed daily while overseas. “If the bushfire situation should demand it, I will return home without hesitation,” he said.

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