After the Australian megafires, data collection boosts wildlife recovery

Koala on ground in burned landscape


Walking through the burned landscape in February 2020, WWF scientist Dr. Emma Spencer was struck by the scale of the destruction—and the silence. Australia’s catastrophic 2019–2020 bushfires scorched more than 24 million acres of land and killed or displaced an estimated 3 billion animals. “There was no birdsong, just ash and blackened trees,” she says.

In the fire’s aftermath, and with support from Google, WWF and Conservation International launched Eyes on Recovery, an initiative using over 1,100 motion-activated cameras to monitor the recovery of Australian wildlife. These cameras have captured more than 7 million photos since 2020, all of which have been cataloged using Wildlife Insights—an AI-powered platform that can automatically identify wildlife in photos and help conservationists manage, share, and analyze their wildlife data online.

From this data a story of recovery is emerging. More than 150 species—including Kangaroo Island dunnarts, brush-tailed rock-wallabies, and koalas—have been recorded, even in severely burned habitat. Experts have also identified 13 conservation actions to boost wildlife recovery, such as providing the critically endangered Kangaroo Island dunnart with artificial shelter following the fire.

In many places, green regrowth now covers the scorched earth and trees, but “we can’t rely only on nature’s ability to regenerate,” says Spencer. “If Australia burns like this too often, some of these species may not recover. That’s why we must continue to look to innovative programs like Eyes on Recovery to monitor vulnerable ecosystems—and why we must also manage the climate crisis.”

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