Australia’s bushfires deadly to wildlife too

Wildfires continue to rage in southeastern Australia, devastating coastal areas and threatening one of the nation’s most iconic species -- the koala.

Dozens of bushfires have raged across several states since early November. The blazes have burned through hundreds of thousands of hectares, leaving at least four people dead and more than 550 homes destroyed.

The fires have also incinerated wide areas of koala habitat and killed more than 1,000 of the marsupials.
Images of injured koalas have become a symbol of the fires.

Dramatic footage of a woman rescuing a koala from a burning forest made headlines around the world.

"He was climbing a tree and had flames up his back legs," said rescuer Toni Doherty. "I just covered him with t-shirt and managed to get him off the tree."

The koala, later named Lewis, was send to a Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie, but was beyond help and had to be euthanized.

The loss of one koala has highlighted the plight of the animals. "They were vulnerable before these fires started," said Sue Ashton, the head of the hospital.

Australia has always been prone to bushfires in its hot, dry summers, but some scientists say the scale of this year's blazes has been unprecedented and that has prompted debate on the impact of global warming. A report issued earlier this year says the fire season has grown longer and more intense due to climate change.

People rallied to call for action on climate change.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets in Sydney and other cities across Australia demanding stronger action to rein in climate change.

"Our house is on fire," shouted placard-wielding students. They demanded acknowledgment of the role of climate change in the bushfire crisis.

And it could get worse. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology says much of the country will suffer from continued hot and dry conditions through this southern-hemisphere summer, and that the chance of more bushfires will only increase.