GLENMORE PARK, AUSTRALIA –
When volunteer Sarah Price found a frightened but miraculously alive kangaroo baby in her dying mother's purse, surrounded by the embers of Australia's wildfires, it seemed appropriate to call him Chance.
The hairy couple had survived flames that hit much of southeastern Australia, but their mother's organs later collapsed due to acute stress – making her one of more than a billion animals that have died in the crisis so far.
Chance is slowly recovering, receiving food and water regularly and hiding in a purse in a dark room – a rare success story in the midst of a disaster that has shocked even volunteers accustomed to Australia's frequent forest fires and prolonged droughts.
"We are not seeing the amount of animals coming into service or in need of rescue that we would normally expect," Price, who works with WIRES Wildlife Rescue Group, told AFP. "We think many died in the fires."
Scary images of scorched-haired koalas, scorched-legged skunks, or countless charred kangaroo carcasses have sprung up all over the world to symbolize a nation and an environment that are crowded under the weight of a climate-fueled crisis.
Populations of less visible creatures such as frogs, insects, invertebrates and reptiles are also expected to have been devastated.
Experts warn that even surviving animals face a dangerous fight to stay alive.
"Many animals die after the fire because they are short of food and homeless," Sydney University Mathew Crowther told AFP.
"They can be eaten by other animals or can't get enough food for themselves."
In the state of Victoria, where the fire season is still in its early stages, veterinary surgeons said they found koalas, birds, kangaroos and skunks suffering not only from burns but also from breathing problems.
"Many are being sacrificed humanely, but some can be saved, with a handful being returned to the remaining habitat and three being taken to care … so far," said a spokeswoman for Zoos Victoria.
& # 39; Holocaust of Destruction & # 39;
Australia's mammalian extinction rate is already the highest in the world, but there are growing fears that this year's forest fires could cause localized extinctions.
"Crowds (kangaroos) usually try to regroup. When they come back, obviously … the grass is no longer green, the foliage is no longer there, the bushes are gone, the trees are burnt," Price said.
One third of Kangaroo Island, a wildlife refuge off the coast of South Australia, has been destroyed and it is feared that some species unique to the region may have been destroyed.
"There is almost no considerable habitat for many species. This leads to local extinction events," John Woinarski of the Endangered Species Recovery Center told ABC broadcaster, describing the fires as a "holocaust of destruction" for wildlife. .
At least half of Australia's only koala population on infection-free Kangaroo Island, a key "safe population" for the future of the species, is feared to be killed with more serious injuries.
The Kangaroo Island dunnart, already one of the 10 priority threatened mammal species targeted by the national government's Endangered Species Strategy, could face extinction.
University of Sydney professor Chris Dickman said his estimate of more than one billion dead animals is "highly conservative."
"We are probably seeing what climate change might look like to other parts of the world in the early stages of Australia at the moment."
When the fires subside, Crowther said some populations could become so small that they could be taken captive to try to save their species.
Some parts of the bush will take decades to recover, and experts say substantial investment may be needed to restore habitats if animals like Chance are to be more likely to survive.