These animals have become the global symbol of Australia's devastating fires

Moya Lothian-McLean@moya_lm
Tuesday 31 December 2019 15:00
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(AFP via Getty Images)

Although it’s Christmas and therefore very easy to lose track of what day it is and any news that may be occurring, it’s been impossible to ignore the situation in Australia.

Devastating bushfires are ravaging the country, triggered by "extreme" heatwaves that have seen temperatures reach up to 40C.

Capital city Canberra has banned fireworks from its official New Year’s Eve celebrations, for fear they could also begin more blazes. Sydney is considering similar measures, despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison insisting they will go ahead.

The state of New South Wales is one of the worst hit by the disaster, with over 200 fires that have started there since Monday.

Nationally, five million hectares (12.35 million acres) have been burned and 950 destroyed, report Sky News.

Nine people have also been killed and ecologists from the University of Sydney say 500 million animals are feared to be dead.

But it’s one furry indigenous creature that’s become the global face of the suffering caused by the bushfires: the koala.

The little creatures — which famously live in and on Eucalyptus trees — have triggered an outpouring of feeling, after pictures and videos of Australians aiding them during the fires have gone viral.

Clips circulated on Twitter and Facebook show animals so desperate to escape the heat and quench their thirst, they’re approaching humans to drink from water bottles.

Photos that also seem to sum up the disaster have also helped make the koala’s plight symbolic of the entire country.

A third of koalas in New South Wales alone are estimated to have died, with 30 per cent of their habitat completely destroyed.

The animals were already in danger prior to this latest round of fires; in May, a report by the Australian Koala Foundation declared them “functionally extinct” and said there were only 80,000 koalas left in the country.

Meanwhile, the Australian government faces more criticism over its approach to climate change, with critics saying the administration are doing nothing to meet carbon emission reduction goals — despite the fact the country is one of the biggest producers of fossil fuels like coal and natural gases.

PM Scott Morrison has also come under personal attack after choosing to jet off on holiday to Hawaii while the country battled the blazes.

A mural depicting the PM in a traditional Hawaiian luau raised $50,000 for the Rural Fire Service (£26,500) despite being painted over days after it was daubed on a Sydney wall.

For now, the fires rage on.

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