On Kangaroo Island, known in Australia as Galapagos, the situation is serious. A race against the clock is currently underway to save as many animals as possible, especially koalas. This island, located south of the huge island continent and considered a real sanctuary for unique flora and fauna, was swept away two weeks ago by fires. Several corpses of animals litter the ground.
Forest fires that have ravaged entire regions of southern and eastern Australia since September have been estimated to have killed around one billion animals. As forests and coastal areas, larger than South Korea, have gone up in smoke, experts now fear that some species are on the verge of extinction.
On Kangaroo Island, rescuers rake through the national park, looking for injured, lost or hungry animals, amid the stench of decomposed animals. "When we arrived in this area, we thought that nothing could have survived, but, every day, we found survivors," Kelly Donithan, a specialist in the field, said this week during a patrol. crisis management for the animal welfare organization Humane Society International.
Increasingly slim chances of survival
A large part of the animal habitats having been destroyed, their chances of survival decrease every day. "Time is short," said Kelly Donithan. "With each passing day, the chances of survival of animals are becoming increasingly weak and their organs are more and more likely to suffer irreversible damage," according to this specialist.
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The Kangaroo Island, which is 45 minutes by ferry from Adelaide, in South Australia, was before these fires a very popular tourist destination due in particular to its landscapes unspoiled by all traces of civilization and its fauna. One of the most famous animals on the island is the black cockatoo, whose tail plumage shines. This species of bird has disappeared on the continent. Rescuers who walked the devastated areas of the park on foot on Wednesday heard no birds.
Another source of concern is the gray marsupial mice, which were already on the verge of extinction before the fires. "We think there were about 500 left (before the traffic lights)," said Elaine Bensted, director general of zoos in South Australia, on ABC television. According to her, most of these marsupial mice lived in the western part of the island, the most seriously affected by the fires, many of which continue to burn.
Particularly threatened koalas
Rescuers recognize that finding the small surviving species is difficult, so they focus mainly on large animals. These include koalas. Kangaroo Island is home to the only population of koalas in Australia not affected by chlamydia, a sexually transmitted infection fatal to marsupials. They constituted a kind of "insurance" for the future of the species. This is all the more crucial since a large part of the koalas living on the mainland has been decimated by fire.
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Australian Environment Minister Sussan Ley said this week that these marsupials have been "hit hard" and may be listed for threatened species for the first time. The rescued island koalas are taken to a makeshift shelter in the island's animal park. Some are so badly injured that they have to be euthanized.
The race against the clock to save wild species that are still alive is causing an "emotional roller coaster", said Evan Quartermain of Humane Society International. "Sometimes we walk for hours through devastated landscapes with hundreds and hundreds of corpses on the ground … and we get depressed, we can't help it, it's very traumatic," he explained to Agence France-Presse. “And then we find a baby (koala) at the end of the day and we take him, we give him a chance and we are full of joy. "
Rescue of prehistoric trees
Officials also said on Wednesday that a secret mission saved the last natural site in the world of Wollemi pines, one of Australia's prehistoric trees discovered in 1994, from one of the fires that ravage Australia. Less than 200 of these Protected trees still exist in their natural state, hidden in a gorge in the Blue Moutains, an area located northwest of Sydney and listed as World Heritage of Humanity.
"An unprecedented environmental protection mission" was carried out to save these trees, said Matt Kean, Minister of the Environment in New South Wales, a state in southeast Australia . The precious pines, a species over 200 million years old, were considered to be extinct until the site was discovered in 1994 in New South Wales in the Wollemi natural park. , hence their name. The location of the pines, sometimes nicknamed “dinosaur trees”, has been a well-kept secret to protect them from any contamination that may be brought by visitors.