The family of the late wildlife expert Steve Irwin has been helping to treat animals who have been injured in the Australian bushfires. As we reported last week, they have seen a massive increase in patients at their animal hospital since the fires began in September.
In their first television interview since the fires began, Steve Irwin’s wife Terri and their 16-year-old son Robert explained the devastation faced by the animals of the region. Robert became very emotional while holding a koala at one point in the interview, saying that they are “heartbroken” by the experience.
"Being able to treat and help koalas is few and far between because they're basically incinerated"
Terri Irwin chats about the devastating impact of Australia's bushfires on our vulnerable koala population.
— Sunrise (@sunriseon7) January 5, 2020
“We’re just trying to do our best to help in any way we can, but it’s an absolutely horrific situation. We’re heartbroken,” he said.
Terri explained that Koalas are especially vulnerable in situations like this because they instinctually climb trees when they believe they are in danger, which leaves them nowhere to escape when the fires consume the trees.
“The consideration with koalas is that their instinct is to go up, safety is in the top of the tree, and with a hot fire, eucalyptus trees have so much oil in their leaves they actually ignite and explode. So being able to treat koalas is few and far between because they’re basically incinerated, which is absolutely heartbreaking. But now is the time we need to look at more than just setting aside habitat. Koalas are classed as vulnerable and I think that after this event we need to really sit down and look at classing them as endangered and protecting our icons, our kangaroos, our koalas,” Terri said.
Terri has been in charge of operating the hospital since Steve’s death. On average, the zoo treats about 8,000 sick and injured native animals per year, which is a much smaller number than the volume that they are dealing with in the midst of the current crisis.
Wildlife experts now estimate that over a billion animals have lost their lives in the fires so far, with many more in serious danger after losing their habitat. Last week, it was estimated that over 12 million acres of land have been scorched in the fires thus far, which is about five times bigger than the damage caused to the Amazon earlier this year, and that figure has likely risen much higher in the week since.