Jan. 17 (UPI) -- Devastating wildfires in Australia have caused the deaths of more than 40,000 animals on Kangaroo Island, where animal groups are trying to save as many as they can.
The government's Primary Industries and Regions agency said nearly 44,000 sheep, cattle, horses and other domesticated animals died in the fires or were euthanized. About 30 wild animals -- including koalas, wallabies, opossums, monitor lizards and birds -- arrive daily at the island's wildlife park for treatment, where veterinarians have established an emergency medical center.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Australia said it first began deploying staff to the island last month after the wildfires began seriously impacting wildlife and habitats.
"Animal health staff will continue working with local veterinary clinics to provide immediate assessment and advice to producers and animal owners," said State Controller for Agriculture and Animal Services Professor Mehdi Doroudi. "This includes the inspection and assessment of injured livestock and their welfare, treatment of surviving animals, and humane destruction to relieve suffering."
Officials said half of the 1,701 square-mile island, located off the southern coast about 95 miles southwest of Adelaide, has been burned by wildfires that have burned in numerous locations since September. The fires became an international concern when they spread last month. More than 15 million acres and 2,000 homes have been destroyed.
The island, a tourist attraction, is home to rare birds and animals unique to Australia. Koalas, who rely on eucalyptus leaves for survival, are being hand fed since their habitat has been devastated and little greenery is left. The Australian military has deployed 450 troops who have helped volunteers search the island for animals in distress. Officials said some koalas have been found with burn wounds.
"It's overwhelming when you realize the vast majority of koalas on the island have lost their habitat and a significant number have died in the fire," RSPCA Australia chief veterinarian Brad Ward said. "It's gone from a situation where there was probably an overpopulation of koalas a few years ago, to now where they're under-population. Providing a habitat for those that are recovering will be tough."