Almost a third of koalas in Australia’s New South Wales region may have been killed in deadly bushfires, which have been burning out of control, the Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley said.
“Up to 30% of the koalas in the region may have been killed, because up to 30% of their habitat has been destroyed.. We’ll know more when the fires are calmed down and a proper assessment can be made,” Ley told ABC’s AM Radio program on Friday.
For over two months, deadly bushfires have been burning out of control across Australia and engulfing whole towns, exacerbated by strong winds and rising temperatures.
By December 21, a total of nine people had died, with one missing, and nearly 800 homes had been destroyed by the fires. On December 19, two volunteer firefighters were killed while battling the blazes in New South Wales.
The fires have also threatened koalas living in the wild. In a photo on Facebook, firefighters in Hawkesbury, New South Wales were seen pulling two koalas to safety next to a highway.
Ley said that the government is working with koala experts, and allocated $6 million to establish corridors and a plan for releasing animals that have been in hospitals.
Australia has experienced one of the worst droughts in decades and sweltered under a record-breaking heat wave last week, when the average maximum temperature across the country hit 41.9 degrees Celsius (107.4 Fahrenheit).
A new heat wave is expected to hit the country over the weekend and into next week, raising fears that high temperatures and dry winds could further intensify the raging infernos.
In some parts of South Australia, authorities have raised a “severe” fire danger rating, which advised residents that evacuating early was “the safest option” for their survival.
The drought and the fires are the most urgent symptoms of Australia’s climate crisis. Disasters like the fires and floods have devastated the livelihoods of farmers and wrought millions of dollars’ worth of damage.
Australia is heavily reliant on coal-fired power, and the government has come under fire for its climate policies.
CNN’s Eric Cheung and Isaac Yee contributed to this report.