Those devastated to learn of the likely deaths of thousands of koalas in Australia's wildfires should take a deep breath. Ecologists from the University of Sydney now estimate some 480 million animals have been killed since September, per News.com.au. The outlet notes the figure is "likely to soar" following fires in recent days, which raised the human death toll to 17, per the Guardian. Environment Minister Sussan Ley says the true toll on animals won't be known until "the fires have calmed down and a proper assessment can be made." But with some 10 million acres burned across five states, hope isn't high, per Reuters. "The fires have burned so hot and so fast that there has been significant mortality of animals in the trees," Nature Conservation Council ecologist Mark Graham told Parliament as part of an inquiry into deaths of slow-moving koalas, per News.com.au.
"There is such a big area now that is still on fire ... that we will probably never find the bodies," Graham added. A volunteer with wildlife rescue group WIRES tells Reuters that few animals are arriving at care centers "so our concern is that ... they're not there anymore, basically." Amid reports of kangaroos fleeing fires and native birds dropping dead from heat, wildlife groups are urging people to assist injured and dehydrated animals whenever possible. Stand Up for Nature, an alliance of 13 groups, is also calling for a hold on logging of native forests in New South Wales in a letter to Premier Gladys Berejiklian. "These unprecedented fires have jeopardized the long-term viability of threatened species populations and forest ecosystems in several areas" and "allowing further loss of habitat and impact on native species would be unconscionable," it says, per News.com.au. (Read more Australia stories.)