Australia’s koala population has taken an “extraordinary hit” in the fires and could be formally classified as “endangered” following the ongoing devastation of bushfire season.
Environment Minister Sussan Ley made the statement as she announced a $50 million funding commitment to help animal populations impacted by the fires.
Today I have announced $50 million for an Emergency Wildlife and Habitat Recovery Package to support immediate work to protect wildlife and work with scientists, ecologists, communities and land managers to plan the… https://t.co/oMl6bTqlg4
— Sussan Ley (@sussanley) January 13, 2020
The initial cash injection comes as the country reels from the unprecedented bushfire crisis.
The Commonwealth money will be evenly split with $25 million to an emergency intervention fund and $25 million for frontline environmental groups.
This includes up to $5 million for Greening Australia for revegetation initiatives and up to $3 million for zoos to help treat animals.
Money will be steered by Australia’s threatened species commissioner Sally Box, who will work with a panel to put a recovery plan in place.
The panel will include university experts as well as people from Zoos Victoria, CSIRO and state and territory representatives.
The government’s main priorities are to rehabilitate injured wildlife, control feral predators, map affected areas and use unburned areas to protect animals.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has described the bushfires as an ecological disaster, telling Sky News eight million hectares had been lost so far, with more than one billion animals estimated to have died.
Environment Minister Sussan Ley says it’s too early to know the impact of the catastrophic fires, but that it creates an historic environmental challenge.
One of the orphaned koalas on Kangaroo Island. Our Threatened Species Commissioner and national team are working with wildlife rescue orgs & scientific experts to understand the impact of bush fire on our environment. We’re committed to a long term recovery process. ADF photo pic.twitter.com/6XmKvWZ8IP
— Sussan Ley (@sussanley) January 9, 2020
“We need to be guided by scientific experts in the field, by our national research bodies, the traditional owners who have managed this land over tens of thousands of years, our farmers whose passion and commitment to the land spans generations and our local communities,” she said in a statement.
The Wilderness Society has welcomed the commitment but says there is more to be done.
“As an initial investment, the $50 million is a good start, but much more will be needed to recover wildlife and the habitat critical for their survival,” campaign manager Suzanne Milthorpe said.
“The fires have drawn Australia’s appalling record as a global leader in extinction to the world’s attention, and we can not return to business as usual given the widespread and profound impact that these fires will have on the natural places that support our communities and wildlife.”
World Wide Fund-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman said the announcement was an important first step and stressed the government would need to go further amid fears the fires may have tipped some species to the brink of extinction.
“The impact of these bushfires on people and nature is unprecedented and the recovery and restoration work ahead is immense,” Mr O’Gorman said.
“We thank the Australian Government for their commitment to wildlife response today. This support will provide a great start to help all our combined effort to respond to wildlife in need, restore critical habitat and deliver long-term conservation solutions,” he added.
“However significantly more funding will be required to help our threatened species recover.”
Meanwhile, thousands of kilograms of carrots and sweet potatoes are being dropped by planes in fire-affected areas of NSW to help wallabies.
Injured animals are also being treated in bushfire-ravaged areas of Victoria.
RSPCA Victoria has deployed a mobile animal care unit to care for injured wildlife, including animals evacuated from the stranded town of Mallacoota.
Their South Australian peers have converted a wildlife refuge into a treatment centre for animals injured on Kangaroo Island.
Up to 80 animals are being rescued every day in Queensland, prompting the state government to announce $250,000 in grants for wildlife carers.