As Australia's catastrophic wildfires rage on with no end in sight, University of Sydney ecologist Chris Dickman said the number of animals killed in the blazes has topped one billion—a horrifying figure that the scientist described as a "very conservative" estimate.
Dickman told HuffPost late Monday that the original estimate of nearly 500 million animals killed was based solely on figures from the state of New South Wales (NSW) and excluded groups of animals that have been devastated by the wildfires, which have scorched 18 million acres of land, destroyed thousands of homes, and killed at least 25 people.
"It's our climate impact and our obsession with coal that is helping wage war on our own country."
—Stuart Blanch, World Wildlife Fund Australia
"The original figure—the 480 million—was based on mammals, birds, and reptiles for which we do have densities, and that figure now is a little bit out of date," Dickman said. "It's over 800 million given the extent of the fires now—in New South Wales alone."
When animals such as bats, frogs, and invertebrates are included in the total, Dickman said, "without any doubt at all" the death toll has exceeded a billion.
"Over a billion would be a very conservative figure," the ecologist said.
Stuart Blanch, scientist with World Wildlife Fund Australia, agreed with Dickman's assessment of over a billion animals lost to the fires.
"It's our climate impact and our obsession with coal that is helping wage war on our own country," Blanch said in an interview with HuffPost.
Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg highlighted the shocking numbers on Twitter:
Ecologists at the University of Sydney and WWF Australia estimate that a billion animals has died in Australia’s bushfires.
“Over a billion would be a very conservative figure,” says Chris Dickman from the University of Sydney. #AustraliaFires https://t.co/b1DHgrGUSd
— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) January 7, 2020
The unprecedented fires across Australia, fueled by record heat driven by the global climate crisis, have put several endangered species in Australia at risk of total extinction.
"Critically endangered species, including the southern corroboree frog and mountain pygmy-possum, could be wiped out as fires ravage crucial habitat in Victoria's Alpine National Park and New South Wales' neighboring Kosciuszko National Park," HuffPost reported. "Threatened species, such as the glossy black cockatoo, spotted-tail quoll, and long-footed potoroo (both small marsupials), are also facing real risks of extinction in large parts of their range."
Janine Green, a volunteer at WIRES Wildlife Rescue, told CNN Tuesday that it will be extremely difficult for animal populations to recover in the aftermath of the fires.
"They're not coping, and now they've got no grass, no water, no habitat," Green said. "Who knows if they can breed after this? We've never seen anything like this before."