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Vets in Australia are facing the harrowing task of mass euthanasia, with hundreds of millions of animals having already perished in the bushfire crisis.
Many mammals, birds and reptiles have been too badly burned to be saved, and vets have been left with no choice but to end their suffering.
Devastatingly, experts believe we will see hundreds of thousands more deaths in the coming days, with many more animals continuing to succumb to starvation and heat stress. The true extent of the fatalities from the bushfires will perhaps never be known.
Wildlife Victoria boss Megan Davidson has made the following comments on the ongoing tragedy:
The fires will have killed millions of animals … mammals, birds, reptiles.
[…] It is largely a job of euthanasing at this stage, both livestock and wildlife. They are so severely burned that there is nothing better you can do than end their suffering.
Earlier this week, University of Sydney ecologist Chris Dickman estimated nearly half a billion animals had died, however he has since described this figure as ‘conservative’, stressing the actual number could actually be much higher.
Reflecting on his previous estimation, Professor Dickman has now released the following statement:
This figure only relates to the state of NSW. Many of the affected animals are likely to have been killed directly by the fires, with others succumbing later due to the depletion of food and shelter resources and predation from introduced feral cats and red foxes.
The figure includes mammals, birds and reptiles and does not include insects, bats or frogs. The true loss of animal life is likely to be much higher than 480 million.
Entire species now facing a greater threat of extinction, with environmentalists having expressed concerns about the nationally-endangered eastern bristlebird.
With only three populations of the small bird in Australia, two are under threat. One habitat is close to Jervis Bay on the south coast of New South Wales, while the other is in Mallacoota in Victoria’s East Gippsland, where people were forced to flee to the beach to escape the blaze.
The University of Melbourne’s Alan York said:
It is a bird with very limited flight capabilities so it’s very difficult for it to get out of the way of fire.
The bristlebird’s only other habitat – on the Gold Coast – is not currently under threat from bushfires, however it has faced struggles in recent times.
Despite such horror, both Professor York and Dr Davidson remain hopeful that populations could well recover following the decimation of their habitats.
According to Professor York:
People get worried that species will become extinct but it’s more about population size and they will return.
It is sometimes surprising how quickly things will recover – as soon as conditions are good again they can very rapidly breed up.
Professor Davidson has stressed:
It’s grim, but we don’t want people to despair.
Professor Davidson has also emphasised how everyone can do their bit to help these animals, who are suffering from years of drought as well as from the effects of the bushfires.
People have been encouraged to distribute containers of water outdoors, ensuring they chuck in some sticks and leaves so that insects have something they can cling to.
Those with swimming pools have been advised to add ‘climb-out points’ to prevent animals from drowning, while fruit tree owners have been told to remove netting so as to share their produce.
Those offering pellets and hay have been advised to spread the food out so there is less chance of vulnerable species being targeted by predators.
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