3 billion animals harmed by Australia’s fires

Echidna walks amongst burnt bushland

Australia’s bushfire crisis was one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history. The fires killed or displaced nearly 3 billion animals.

Uprooting families and claiming lives, bushfires raged across Australia from June 2019 to February 2020. New WWF research reveals that the toll on wildlife was around three times higher than an earlier study estimated.

In total, 143 million mammals, 2.46 billion reptiles, 180 million birds, and 51 million frogs were harmed. “It’s a difficult number to comprehend,” said Professor Chris Dickman of the University of Sydney.

A wombat emerges from its den after a bushfire and flooding.

A koala with a burnt nose, hands, and feet.

A team of 10 scientists studied more than 28 million acres. “We believe a continent-wide assessment of the number of animals that might be impacted has never been done in Australia before or anywhere else in the world. Other nations can build upon this research to improve understanding of fire impacts everywhere,” said Dr. Lily Van Eeden of the University of Sydney, who led the study.

Australia’s record-breaking fire season was intensified by the worsening climate crisis. With rising temperatures and prolonged drought fueling the bushfires, WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman said the research “gives other countries a window into the future of mega-fires and their devastating impact on wildlife.” Without climate action at the scale recommended by the IPCC, the strength and frequency of extreme fires will continue to grow.

Professor Dickman said the findings show how drastically fires can shrink biodiversity. To preserve species, he emphasized the need to channel sadness into action: “How quickly can we decarbonize? How quickly can we stop our manic land clearing?”

The interim report recommends improving habitat connectivity to help species escape fires, identifying and protecting unburnt habitat crucial to threatened species, improving fire prevention and management, and establishing rapid response teams to help species impacted by fire. A final report on the study is expected later this summer.

Over the last year, thanks to WWF supporters around the world, WWF was able to deploy emergency funds to the frontlines of the fires to help injured and displaced wildlife. We continue our commitment to the protection of these critical habitats and the prevention of future forest fires.