- Hundreds of koalas are feared dead, after a massive wildfire broke out this week along Australia's eastern coastline in a nature reserve that is considered to be a critical koala habitat.
- The koala, one of Australia's native animals, is currently listed as "vulnerable" by the country's Environment Ministry.
- The Koala Hospital Port Macquarie said in a Facebook post on Wednesday that at over 350 koalas have died since Monday.
- Ecologist Stephen Phillips told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that Koalas are very slow breeders, and could take decades to recover from the incident.
- In May, experts at the Australian Koala Foundation announced that they believe no more than 80,000 koalas are left on the continent and considered them to be "functionally extinct."
- For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.
Hundreds of koalas are feared dead after a massive wildfire broke out this week near Port Macquarie, located along the Australian coastline north of Sydney.
The blaze broke out in an area called Lake Innes Nature Reserve, a critical koala habitat, according to the Koala Hospital Port Macquarie. In a Facebook post from Wednesday local time, the Koala Hospital said that "two-thirds of the current footprint of the fire is prime koala habitat (or was)."
According to the hospital, the area just south of Port Macquarie called Crestwood is a koala "hot spot" and is crucial for the breeding of one of Australia's native animals currently listed as "vulnerable" by the country's Environment Ministry.
"If the wind continues ... it has the potential to be devastating for this important genetically diverse source population of koalas," the hospital said in a Facebook post on Monday.
The hospital estimated that over 350 koalas have died in the blaze since Monday.
Video posted to its Facebook page by the hospital on Wednesday shows the extent of the fire, which left trees charred and koalas badly burnt from the blaze.
Hospital clinical director Cheyne Flanagan told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that the event constituted a "national tragedy."
"Twenty years worth of work at the place. I just feel like walking away, I really do, I'm not going to, but it's just awful," she told ABC.
"That area houses the most significant population of koalas in this region," she added.
According to the New South Wales Rural Fire Service (NSWRFS), the fire has burned through over 2,550 hectares of bushland as of Thursday morning local time.
According to the NSWRFS, there were 65 bush and grass fires burning across the state as of 10:30 a.m. local time on Thursday.
The Lake Innes Nature Reserve closed to the public on Tuesday because of bushfire threats and will remain closed until Sunday.
Stephen Phillips, an ecologist in the region, told ABC that thousands of hectares of key koala habitat had been lost in recent fires. In addition to habitat loss, koalas are very slow breeders, and could take decades to recover from the incident.
In May, experts at the Australian Koala Foundation announced that they believe no more than 80,000 koalas are left on the continent and considered them to be "functionally extinct."
Bushfires in Australia are very common, particularly in the hotter spring and summer months. Australia's parliament said in 2009 that about 50 million hectares of land are burned across Australia each year on average. Bushfires are generally slower moving than grassfires, and are an "intrinsic part of Australia's environment," according to Geoscience Australia.
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