In a grim video posted on Twitter, a man drives into the fire-ravaged town of Batlow, in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW). Both sides of the road are covered with ash and lingering smoke. They’re also littered with the charred remains of animals killed in wildfires that have ripped through the region.
The blazes, which have been burning across Australia for months, have razed homes and wiped out entire towns. Across Australia, nearly 18 million acres of land have been burned -- much of it bushland, forests and national parks, home to the country's beloved and unique wildlife.
Nearly half a billion animals have been impacted by the fires in NSW alone, with millions potentially dead, according to ecologists at the University of Sydney. That figure includes birds, reptiles, and mammals, except bats. It also excludes insects and frogs -- meaning the true number is likely much higher.
The total number of animals affected nationwide could be as high as a billion, according to Christopher Dickman, the University of Sydney ecologist who led the report.
Fires are nothing new in Australia, but they have been growing more intense and becoming more destructive in recent years, a problem that has been exacerbated by climate change. And animals have been on the front lines -- Australia has the highest rate of species loss of any area in the world, and researchers fear that rate could increase as the fire disaster continues.
"The scale of these fires is unprecedented," said Dieter Hochuli, an environmental sciences professor at the University of Sydney. "There are substantial concerns about the capacity of these (ecosystems) to rebound from the fires."
Flames, food, and predators
The team at the University of Sydney came to their conclusion by using estimates of NSW mammal population density in 2007 in order to estimate how many animals have been affected by the 4.9 million hectares (12.1 million acres) that have been set alight in the state this fire season.