60,000 koalas hit by Australia's 'black summer'

With their burnt noses and singed paws, the confronting images of injured koalas have become an enduring sight of what Australia's government has called the 'Black Summer' -- the wildfires at the beginning of 2020.

And now the magnitude of the crisis is forming more fully: The World Wildlife Fund is estimating that more than 60,000 koalas were killed, injured, or displaced in the blazes.

For perspective: There's only about 330,000 in the country as of four years ago, but continual bushfires each year were thought to have already reduced that number.

WWF's Australia CEO Dermot O'Gorman:

"Now for a species that was already heavily impacted, this is a really disturbing number and one that we are deeply concerned about."

"These numbers are really off the charts and they drive home the unprecedent nature of the Australian bushfires that really require a massive response."

Last summer's bushfires also killed 33 people and razed over 59 million acres across the country.

Even before the fires, koala habitats had been in rapid decline due to land clearing for agriculture, urban development, mining, and forestry.

But the WWF says that not all hope is lost.

"We've been humbled by the reaction from the Australian public and from our supporters to regenerate Australia and we are determined going into 2021 to be able to make it a year in which we turn around the plight of Australian wildlife and regenerate Australia for current and future generations."

To do so, the WWF aims to double the number of koalas in eastern Australia by 2050.

The plan includes a trial of drones to drop seeds of eucalyptus trees which provide both food and shelter for koalas, and the establishment of a fund to encourage landowners to create koala safe havens.

Video Transcript

REPORTER: With their burnt noses and singed paws, the confronting images of injured koalas have become an enduring sight of what Australia's government has called the "Black Summer," the bushfires at the beginning of 2020. And now the magnitude of the crisis is forming more fully. The World Wildlife Fund is estimating that more than 60,000 koalas were killed, injured, or displaced in the blazes.

For perspective, there's only about 330,000 in the country as of four years ago. But continual bushfires each year were thought to have already reduced that number. WWF's Australia CEO Dermot O'Gorman.

DERMOT O'GORMAN: Now for a species that was already heavily impacted, this is a really disturbing number and one that we're deeply concerned about. These numbers are really off the charts, and they drive home the unprecedented nature of the Australian bushfires that really require a massive response.

REPORTER: Last summer's bushfires also killed 33 people and razed over 59 million acres across the country. Even before the fires, koala habitats had been in rapid decline due to land clearing for agriculture, urban development, mining, and forestry. But the WWF says that not all hope is lost.

DERMOT O'GORMAN: We've been humbled by the reaction from the Australian public and from our supporters to regenerate Australia. And we are determined, going into 2021, to be able to make it a year in which we turn around the plight of Australian wildlife and regenerate Australia for current and future generations.

REPORTER: To do so, the WWF aims to double the number of koalas in Eastern Australia by 2050. The plan includes a trial of drones to drop seeds of eucalyptus trees, which provide both food and shelter for koalas, and the establishment of a fund to encourage landowners to create koala safe havens.