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Australia's fires leave 113 animal species in need of 'urgent help'

Over 100 native species are at greater risk of extinction after an unprecedented bushfire season.

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Australia's native animals have been hit hard by the bushfires.

Lisa Maree Williams/Getty

Australia's unprecedented bushfire season has been devastating for the country's unique flora and fauna. One ecologist even suggested over a billion animals may have perished in the blazes. On Tuesday, a new report released by an expert panel of conservationists, ecologists, scientists and representatives convened by Sussan Ley, Australia's environment minister, has put a number on the amount of species requiring urgent attention: 113. 

The provisional list includes 22 crayfish, 20 reptiles, 19 mammals, 17 frogs, 17 fish, 13 bird and five invertebrate species (like spiders and butterflies) imperiled by the blazes. The panel states these animals were identified by how much of their range had been burnt, whether they were already vulnerable to extinction before the fires, and their physical traits which may influence their vulnerability to bushfire.

The initial assessment is subject to change as further on-ground assessment and spatial data is analyzed, according to the report. Additionally, more invertebrates and vascular plants are likely to be added but both taxa are difficult to assess because of the large number of species. 

"As we learn more about how species have responded on the ground, we will improve this list," Sarah Legge, an ecologist on the panel, told the Guardian.

The most at-risk species identified are the Kangaroo Island dunnart and the Northern Corroboree frog. The dunnart had not been classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the chief authority on the status of the natural world, but most of its natural habitat was burnt out during blazes in January. 

The IUCN did list the frog as critically endangered and over 80% of its habitat was overlapped by fires. The Banksia montana mealybug, a plant-dwelling insect discovered in 2013, and three species of crayfish are the most at-risk invertebrates listed.

So what happens next? In the assessment, a framework for management actions is laid out suggesting two actions should be carried out for all species:

  • On-ground surveys to establish how many animals were lost
  • Protection of unburnt areas within or adjacent to those recently burnt

The government has committed over $170 million to improving the prospects of 20 threatened birds and 20 threatened mammals since 2015. In the most recent progress report, released in 2019, only eight of 20 mammals and only six of 21 bird species were identified as having an "improved trajectory," meaning populations were either increasing faster or declining slower than prior to 2015. Some of the species included on the list have been affected by the bushfires.

The report notes the current bushfire season is not yet over and the assessment will continue to take place, requiring updates as new data becomes available.

CNET has compiled a list of organizations you can donate to if you wish to help Australian wildlife recovery.