One billion animals estimated to have been killed in Australian fires
University of Sydney ecology professor Chris Dickman changed his initial estimate of 480 million Wednesday, saying that the number of animals killed in the state of New South Wales alone is more than 800 million, NBC News reports. That new figure combined with the animal casualties across the rest of the country likely exceeds the 1 billion mark, he told the network.
Dickman's updated total accounts for both animals killed directly by the fires and those that have died by indirect causes, such as starvation and habitat loss, but it doesn't include frogs, insects or other invertebrates.
The professor continued by saying that the fires that were ignited by lightning and have raged for weeks now are exacerbated by climate change.
"Sometimes, it’s said that Australia is the canary in the coal mine with the effects of climate change being seen here most severely and earliest," Dickman said.
"We’re probably looking at what climate change may look like for other parts of the world in the first stages in Australia at the moment," he added.
More than 32,000 square miles of land have reportedly been consumed by the blazes, and there are still more than 100 active fires across New South Wales and the neighboring state of Victoria.
Australia has more than 300 species that are native only to the continent, and fears are growing that several could be entirely wiped out by the disaster.
According to the University of Sydney, Australia has the highest rate of species extinction in the world, with 34 species and subspecies of native mammals wiped out in the past two centuries.