Farmers on Australia’s Kangaroo Island are counting their losses after extreme and rapid bushfires reduced most of the precious nature reserve to charred mass.
The tourist hot-spot has been likened to Noah’s Arch for its unique ecology, but there are fears it may never recover after a trio of ‘apocalyptic’ blazes wiped out tens of thousands of livestock, kangaroos and koalas.
Local farmer Rick Morris endured the gruelling task of burying 400 sheep after bushfires brought the ‘wrath of mother nature’ to his home. He said: ‘The fire (swept) from the south side to the north side of the island and took no prisoners between… I’m amazed there were not more people killed.’
28 people have died and over one billion animals have perished in Australia’s worst fire season on record. The blazes on Kangaroo Island have been particularly shocking for their speed and extreme behaviour, with experts estimating half of the land (more than 215,000 hectares) has been scorched.
The south-west destination, near Adelaide, is one of Australia’s most important wildlife sanctuaries and is renowned for its biodiversity. Now, the streets are lined with animal carcasses and blackened out trees that are still sizzling with ashes. The ecological disaster is so big the army have been drafted in to help battle the flames and dig trenches to bury the 43,000 sheep and cattle killed.
Brigadier Damian Cantwell, the joint bushfire task force commander for South Australia state, said he foresaw a ‘long road ahead’ for Kangaroo Island. He said: ‘I’ve seen a level of destruction which is still surprising me now. ‘There’s a lot of farmers that are in distress, a lot of community members are struggling, some families have lost everything, and they’re struggling to find out where they can move forward from here. ‘There’s no end date assigned to this mission, and it’s very important that there’s no sense of anyone… thinking about when this is going to end.’
3,000 soldiers have been deployed to assist the bushfire-affected areas. Kangaroo Island’s agriculture industry is worth $150 million (£75 million), and farming is the island’s biggest employer. Volunteers have been searching the scorched land for surviving wildlife amid fears half the koalas have been wiped out.
Local agronomist Daniel Pledge said animals are likely to conceive at lower rates due to stress, causing lasting impacts from the fires. He said: ‘It’s a snowball effect that we can’t measure and we’re very concerned for our local economy, to be honest. ‘These effects could flow on for up to five years, for certain individuals. And that is a long time.’
There are fears farmers across the country have been pushed to the brink, having already been battered by a prolonged drought that has crippled water supplies in rural areas.