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Meet the Koalas, Kangaroos and Other Animals Who Need Help in Australia's Wildfires

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An estimated 480 million mammals, birds and reptiles have been killed in the wildfires in New South Wales since September, according to experts at the University of Sydney, but the real animal death toll is likely much higher. 

So far, the raging wildfires have killed at least 24 people and destroyed an estimated 15 million acres as well as thousands of homes. 

The impact on the country's unique and endangered wildlife is enormous. The University of Sydney's estimate does not include insects, bats or frogs, and, in addition to animals who have been directly killed in the blazes, there are also animals that have succumbed "later due to the depletion of food and shelter resources and predation from introduced feral cats and red foxes." 

Australia is now experiencing "the highest rate of species lost of any area of the world," according to university experts, and species that weren't previously facing extinction could 

"We will have taken many species that weren’t threatened close to extinction, if not to extinction," Kingsley Dixon, an ecologist and botanist at Curtin University told the New York Times. "It’s a biological Armageddon rarely seen." 

Here are just some of Australia's most iconic and beloved wildlife fighting to survive the raging flames.

Koalas

Meet Floyd, one of the first rescued Koalas from the Cudlee Creek fires. He is recovering in the outside pen at Paradise Primary school that Adelaide Koala Rescue set up in the schools gymnasium on Jan. 8, 2020, in Adelaide, Australia.

Meet Floyd, one of the first rescued Koalas from the Cudlee Creek fires. He is recovering in the outside pen at Paradise Primary school that Adelaide Koala Rescue set up in the schools gymnasium on Jan. 8, 2020, in Adelaide, Australia. Getty Images

The marsupials are some of the world's most iconic wildlife and are only found in Australia, according to the World Wildlife Fund. But deforestation, drought, loss of habitat and brushfires have been threatening the species for a long time.

Australia's latest fires have been particularly devastating; on Kangaroo Island, which is located off the mainland near Adelaide and home to a number of rare and endangered species, an estimated 25,000 koalas have died, and satellite images from NASA show one third of the island's land mass has been burned. 

The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital on the country's southeast coast estimates as many as 350 koalas have perished in its area alone. In response, the hospital has rescued as many koalas as it can and launched a fundraiser to build a "Koala Ark" to provide a habitat and breeding ground for surviving koalas, who can hopefully one day be released back into the wild. So far, the hospital has raised more than $5.4 million. 

World Wildlife Fund Australia is accepting donations to help wildlife, including the devastated koala population. The organization warns koalas could be extinct as early as 2050 in New South Wales and southeast Queensland if more isn't done to protect them. 

Kangaroos and Wallabies

This wallaby is licking its burnt paws after escaping a bushfire on the Liberation Trail in New South Wales on Nov. 12, 2019.

This wallaby is licking its burnt paws after escaping a bushfire on the Liberation Trail in New South Wales on Nov. 12, 2019. Getty Images

Australia is home to multiple species of kangaroos and wallabies, both of which belong to the macropod family, according to Bush Heritage Australia. Since the fires began, images of burned and injured kangaroos and wallabies have broken people's hearts across the world. 

Along the coast, 60 kangaroos died and 20 managed to escape when the fires reached a sanctuary near the South Coast town of Bateman's Bay, Australia's ABC News reported

In addition to its population of koalas, Kangaroo Island hosts nature reserves that serve as homes for 60,000 kangaroos and numerous species of birds, including the endangered glossy black cockatoo, Australian biologist Dr. Lucky Tran tweeted. The fires have put all of them at serious risk. 

Australian army reservists are now helping treat injured animals on the island. 

WIRES is an organization committed to helping the wildlife in Australia.

"Many animals were already struggling with a lack of water and food due to the drought. With the fires destroying unprecedented amounts of habitat, food shortages have increased and lack of suitable habitat will be a significant long-term challenge for surviving wildlife,” writes the organization, which has worked to rescue and care for native animals for more than 30 years. 

WIRES typically has more than 25,00 volunteers in 28 branches involved in the rescue and care of wildlife. On average, it receives up to 95,000 requests for rescue advice and assistance every year.

This kangaroo is moving closer to a residential area to escape bushfires in New South Wales on Jan. 6, 2020.

Getty Images

Wombats

The wildfires in Australia have left many wombat joeys orphaned. Shown here is a mama and her baby at the Melbourne Zoo.

The wildfires in Australia have left many wombat joeys orphaned. Shown here are a mama and her baby at the Melbourne Zoo. Getty Images

Wombats are large, pudgy nocturnal marsupials that are only found in Australia and surrounding islands, according to National Geographic

The animals can't run very quickly and so have been unable to escape the fires.  

"It's just horrendous," Graeme Jackson, a New South Wales resident who has experience raising orphaned wombats, told CNN. "A wombat can run 30 kilometers (per hour/18.6 mph), he can run that fast (for) short distances -- and then he burns."

Even animals that do survive the initial blaze struggle afterward. The fires have wiped out their available food and water, and a lack of tree or brush cover in burned areas means smaller animals have nowhere to hide from predators, which means that the devastating impact on wildlife will likely be felt for decades to come. 

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