Massive bushfires raging in Australia’s New South Wales area may have killed up to 30 percent of the region’s koalas, according to government officials.
Australia’s Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley made the shocking revelation on ABC’s AM Radio program on Friday.
“Up to 30 percent of the koalas in the region may have been killed, because up to 30 percent of their habitat has been destroyed,” Ley said in the interview. “We’ll know more when the fires are calmed down and a proper assessment can be made.”
Ley also said that koala experts are working on a plan to establish a new area to release koalas that were saved and treated in hospitals due to the fires.
As of Dec. 21, nine people had been confirmed dead from the fires, one confirmed missing and nearly 800 homes had been destroyed. Two volunteer firefighters died fighting the flames on Dec. 19.
The fires have raged for more than two months.
The new statement from officials comes after Australian Koala Foundation chairwoman Deborah Tabart estimated last month that more than 1,000 koalas have been killed from the fires.
The organization predicted in May that the Koala population was “functionally extinct,” and estimated that fewer than 80,000 koalas are left in the wild.
More than $2 million has been raised in a GoFundMe to help The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital treat koalas affected by the fire.