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A koala and her joey during rehabilitation at Taronga Zoo in Sydney after a bushfire ravaged their habitat in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney in the Australian of New South Wales in January 13. Photo: Cole Bennetts/The Sydney Morning Herald via Getty Images

Australia's "'black summer" bushfires killed, wounded or displaced 143 million mammals — including over 61,000 koalas, per a report published Monday

Why it matters: Koalas in New South Wales and Queensland were in "rapid decline" before last summer's fires ravaged the states, per a statement from Dermot O'Gorman, CEO of WWF-Australia, which commissioned the research. It's "a deeply disturbing number for a species already in trouble," he added.

The big picture: The blazes killed 33 people and destroyed some 59 million acres. The new research concurs with an interim report published in July that the wildfires impacted some 3 billion animals.

  • "It's hard to think of another event anywhere in the world in living memory that has killed or displaced that many animals," O'Gorman said at the time. "This ranks as one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history."

By the numbers: Along with the mammals, 2.46 billion reptiles, 181 million birds and 51 million frogs occupied areas hit by the 2019-2020 fires, per the new report by University of Sydney researchers.

What to watch: WWF-Australia launched a Koalas Forever" initiative Monday designed to double the number of koalas in eastern Australia by 2050. "It's part of WWF’s Regenerate Australia plan — the largest and most innovative wildlife and landscape regeneration program in Australia’s history," O'Gorman said.

  • "Koalas Forever includes a trial of seed dispersing drones to create koala corridors and the establishment of a fund to encourage landowners to create koala safe havens."
  • The Australian government plans to deploy "heat-seeking drones, acoustic surveys and detector dogs" during its koala count, the New York Times reports.

What they're saying: Australian Environment Minister Sussan Ley said in a statement announcing the audit in November that scientists told the government there's "a serious lack of data about where populations actually are, how they are faring and the best ways to help them recover after the devastating bushfires."

Of note: Australia is facing fresh threats from bushfires this season — notably on the World Heritage-listed Fraser Island, where Queensland Fire and Emergency Services have warned a "fire may pose a threat to all lives directly in its path."

Read the full report, via DocumentCloud:

Go deeper: Australia fires: "Widespread devastation across the ecosystem"

Go deeper

Dec 6, 2020 - Science

Bleaching threat to Great Barrier Reef spawning

Hard coral spawning at Lizard Island National Park, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia. Photo: Auscape/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The annual massive coral spawning of Australia's Great Barrier Reef is underway.

Why it matters: Scientists are concerned that recent severe bleaching at the world’s largest coral reef may limit the size of the phenomenon, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports. The health status of the World Heritage-listed ecosystem has worsened from "significant concern" to "critical" for the first time, a new report finds.

57 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Stalemate over filibuster freezes Congress

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell's inability to quickly strike a deal on a power-sharing agreement in the new 50-50 Congress is slowing down everything from the confirmation of President Biden's nominees to Donald Trump's impeachment trial.

Why it matters: Whatever final stance Schumer takes on the stalemate, which largely comes down to Democrats wanting to use the legislative filibuster as leverage over Republicans, will be a signal of the level of hardball we should expect Democrats to play with Republicans in the new Senate.

Dave Lawler, author of World
1 hour ago - World

Biden opts for five-year extension of New START nuclear treaty with Russia

Putin at a military parade. Photo: Valya Egorshin/NurPhoto via Getty

President Biden will seek a five-year extension of the New START nuclear arms control pact with Russia before it expires on Feb. 5, senior officials told the Washington Post.

Why it matters: The 2010 treaty is the last remaining constraint on the arsenals of the world's two nuclear superpowers, limiting the number of deployed nuclear warheads and the bombers, missiles and submarines which can deliver them.

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