Updated Jan 7, 2020

More than 1 billion animals believed dead in Australian wildfires

A koala named Paul from Lake Innes Nature Reserve recovers from his burns in the ICU at The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital, Nov. 29, 2019, Port Macquarie, Australia. Photo: Nathan Edwards/Getty Images

More than 1 billion animals are believed to have been killed in wildfires that have ravaged Australia since September, University of Sydney professor Chris Dickman told the Huffington Post in an update from his previous estimate of 480 million last week.

Why it matters: The fires have threatened Australia's wildlife, known for its rare animals and distinctive ecosystems. The environment was already imperiled by deforestation to support the country's growing agribusiness.

  • The scale of the damage remains unclear because of a lack of access to the burned areas and because it is difficult to document animal deaths, but scientists say "it is clear that the devastation is immense," per the New York Times.
  • Dickman explained that his earlier estimate was conservative and exclusive to the state of New South Wales — which he now estimates has more than 800 million dead animals alone.

What he's saying: "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million ― was based on mammals, birds and reptiles for which we do have densities, and that figure now is a little bit out of date," Dickman told HuffPost.

  • "Over a billion would be a very conservative figure," he said of the deaths continent-wide, adding that the toll has exceeded 1 billion "without any doubt at all."

Zoom in: Experts say thousands of kangaroos and koalas have been killed on Kangaroo Island, off the coast of South Australia, of which one-third has been destroyed, per the Times. They fear the worst for the island's subspecies of cockatoos, which only had a population of 300–370 before the fires.

  • In a remote area of South Australia, aboriginal officials say they've approved a cull of up to 10,000 camels, as a drought has driven the thirsty animals to "threatening the APY [local government] communities and infrastructure," CNN reports.

Be smart: The estimated death toll is calculated by multiplying the number of estimated animals in a given area by the number of acres burned, according to Dickman.

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Australia's fires could cause koalas to be listed as endangered, minister warns

An injured koala joey at the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park in South Australia on Jan. 8. Photo: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Australia's wildfires have devastated the koala population and could cause the unique marsupial listed as endangered, Environment Minister Sussan Ley warned Monday, per the Sydney Morning Herald.

The big picture: Over 1 billion animals are believed to have died in fires across the country since September. Ley announced a A$50 million funding plan to help protect and support affected wildlife. In New South Wales, wildlife workers dropped thousands of pounds of food for the endangered brush-tailed rock wallaby, state Environment Minister Matt Kean said.

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Keep ReadingArrowJan 13, 2020

Australia's deadly fires: What you need to know

The Australian flag flies under red skies from fires on Jan. 4 in Bruthen, Victoria. Photos: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

The Orroral Valley fire has burned through nearly 25% of the district that's home to Australia's capital, News.com.au reports, after ACT Emergency Controller Georgeina Whelan said the fire was rapidly growing into the south east on Saturday.

The latest: The Orroral fire grew from 81,544 acres to at least 129,073 acres on Saturday, based on Whelan's initial statement, and ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr's following estimate. Whelan said the Orroral fire is expected to move "well into" New South Wales, which creates potential for it to reach and merge with other bushfires in the area.

Australia wildfires: NSW police arrest 24 arson suspects

A firefighter in the Australian state of New South Wales. Photo: Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images

As firefighters battle wildfires across Australia, police in New South Wales have arrested dozens of people for offenses related to fires, including 24 for deliberately lighting fires and three for looting fire-ravaged communities.

The big picture: NSW police said in a statement Monday that officers have taken legal action against 183 people for fire-related offenses since Nov. 8, including for "allegedly discarding a lighted cigarette or match on land."

Go deeperArrowJan 7, 2020