14:24 GMT28 October 2020
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    Ecologists at the University of Sydney have estimated that nearly half a billion animals, including reptiles, mammals and birds, have been wiped out by Australian bushfires since September 2019.

    According to Mark Graham, an ecologist with the Nature Conservation Council in Sydney, Australia, the actual animal death toll is likely to be higher than the estimated figure, as recent fires have scorched parts of Victoria and the New South Wales (NSW) South Coast over the last few days.

    ​“The fires have burned so hot and so fast that there has been significant mortality of animals in the trees, but there is such a big area now that is still on fire and still burning that we will probably never find the bodies,” Graham is quoted as saying by multiple media outlets.

    ​Animals that have died in the fires include kangaroos, koalas, wallabies, possums, wombats and echidnas. Some Australian officials predict that 30% of a single koala colony on the country’s northeast coast have died in the fires, Reuters reported. Koalas have been most affected by the bushfires because they are slow-moving and eat leaves from eucalyptus trees, which are very flammable.

    ​According to Tracy Burgess, a volunteer at Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Services (WIRES), rescuers have not been getting as many animal patients as expected.

    "We're not getting that many animals coming into care. So, our concern is that they don't come into care because they're not there anymore, basically,” Burgess recently told Reuters.

    ​Australia has faced hundreds of bushfires since September, causing extremely hazardous air conditions, especially in the east and southwest parts of Sydney, the capital of NSW. Extremely dangerous conditions are expected by the end of the week, with the weather forecast for Saturday predicting temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius. The NSW government has declared a state of emergency, which will go into effect Friday morning.

    ​“We’ve got a lot of fire in the landscape that we will not contain,” Rob Rogers, deputy commissioner of the NSW Rural Fire Service, is quoted as saying Thursday. “We need to make sure that people are not in the path of these fires.”

    ​According to the latest impact assessment by the NSW Rural Fire Service, more than 1,200 homes have been destroyed by bushfires since September. At least eight people have died, while 17 are still missing. Currently, tens of thousands of people are attempting to evacuate the southeast Australian coast, the Guardian reported.

    Although fires are common in Australia, this year’s blazes have been particularly intense, with more people than usual showing up at hospitals and medical centers due to breathing issues, according to government health officials, AFP reported.

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