Australian fires killed entire koala colonies

AS THE bushfire crisis eased in New South Wales yesterday, Australians began counting the cost to their ravaged wildlife. They also embarked on a heated debate between conservationists and land-management authorities over who to blame for the disaster.

Some animal welfare groups believe that virtually all the wildlife which lived in national parks along the New South Wales coast may have perished in the firestorms which took hold a week ago, destroying more than 1 million acres before they were finally brought under control on Tuesday. Four people died in the fires and 185 homes were razed.

About 100 fires burnt under control yesterday, as authorities lifted emergency regulations over most of the state. But the row over the causes of last week's catastrophe is likely to escalate. Some farming groups and MPs have blamed conservationists for bringing pressure on fire authorities to scale back controlled burning strategies in recent years, thereby allowing a build-up of tinder-dry fuel in forests. The National Parks and Wildlife Service has defended its fire-control policies, and argued that many fires started outside national parks. Several inquiries are under way.

Phil Koperberg, the New South Wales Bush Fire Services Commissioner, appealed to Australians to learn from the fires rather than bicker about the blame. 'What happened was the inevitable consequence of living in Australia, a bushfire-prone part of the world. Never before has New South Wales had to fight fires on such a wide geographic front with such intensity, and gotten away with such small (human) losses.'

Charles Wright, the chief executive of the RSPCA in Sydney, said yesterday: 'I would say that 95 per cent of the wildlife in these forests would be destroyed. It will take 30 to 40 years before the colonies of animals develop again. It would be akin to a city like Sydney burning down. Humans can rebuild their homes quickly, but animals take far longer to re-establish.'

Wild animals had no salvation from the infernos. Although the fires destroyed forests covering less than 1 per cent of New South Wales, a state three times the size of Britain, the annihilated zones covered some of the most thickly wooded coastal areas where much of the state's wildlife once lived.

The greatest fears now are for koala bears, a national symbol of Australia, whose numbers had dwindled this century as cities expanded into their native habitats. The Australian Koala Foundation believes that entire koala colonies perished in the Royal National Park and the Kuring-gai Chase National Park in Sydney and in parks near the Central Coast and northern New South Wales. More than any other animals, koalas are unable to survive fires of such ferocity. They are slow- moving and live in eucalyptus trees, the leaves of which provide their staple food.

Other lumbering native animals, such as wombats and ring-tailed possums, also stood little chance. Authorities are hoping for a greater survival rate from those which were able to move quickly, such as kangaroos, wallabies, emus and lizards, or fly, such as bats and gliding possums. But those that did manage to flee have no food and shelter to return to, and are likely to fall victim to predators as they move towards residential areas in search of food and water.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine