As Australia’s bushfire crisis continues to impact wildlife, aircraft have been deployed to feed thousands of starving wild animals who have been stranded by the blazes.
The government of the hard-hit state of New South Wales (NSW) has begun a campaign of airdrops across scorched regions, delivering thousands of pounds of root veggies —like carrots and sweet potatoes —from choppers flying above in a bid to sate the appetites of hungry colonies of brush-trailed rock wallabies, reports Daily Mail.
Dubbed “Operation Rock Wallaby,” the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service’s campaign is meant to help save the threatened marsupials from the growing danger of mass starvation.
Over the past week, the agency has conducted the food drops for rock wallaby colonies in various regions across the state. Nearly 5,000 pounds (2,200 kg) of fresh vegetables have already been delivered to the hungry native creatures.
NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean said that although the wallabies have escaped the threat of the monstrous fires, their food sources remain scarce—or simply nonexistent. The official explained:
“The wallabies typically survive the fire itself, but are then left stranded with limited natural food as the fire takes out the vegetation around their rocky habitat.
The wallabies were already under stress from the ongoing drought, making survival challenging for the wallabies without assistance.”
Kean added that they plan to follow up on how the animals progress as they continue recovery efforts following the raging bushfires. He said:
“When we can, we are also setting up cameras to monitor the uptake of the food and the number and variety of animals there.”
Since the fire crisis broke out in September, at least 28 people have been killed and countless others forced to evacuate—often repeatedly—as the historic wave of bushfires ripped through 25.5 million acres (10.3 million hectares) of land, an area equal to the size of South Korea.
Ecologists at the University of Sydney estimate that over 1 billion animals have been killed in the bushfires. Because the fires have extended to wetlands, dry eucalyptus forests, and even rainforests, many animals have been unable to find refuge in neighboring regions.
Even prior to the fires, rock wallabies had been deemed an at-risk species due to the destruction of their habitats.
Experts have warned that the massive loss of life due to the fires threatens to cross a tipping-point for entire species of animals and plants on an island continent where 87 percent of wildlife is endemic to the country, meaning it can only be found on Australia.
NSW Fires: Staff from the NSW National Parks and Wildlife conducted a food drop for brush-tailed rock wallaby colonies across the state yesterday. Sweet potato and carrots were dropped as part of 'Operation Rock Wallaby'. https://t.co/OF81oZFF1j #NSWfires #7NEWS pic.twitter.com/yw0YxJm0PN
— 7NEWS Sydney (@7NewsSydney) January 12, 2020
Conservationist group the World Wildlife Fund Australia estimates that 1.25 billion animals have died due to the bushfire crisis. In a statement Tuesday, WWF-Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman said:
“This heart-breaking loss includes thousands of precious koalas on the mid-north coast of NSW, along with other iconic species such as kangaroos, wallabies, gliders, potoroos, cockatoos and honeyeaters.
Many forests will take decades to recover and some species may have tipped over the brink of extinction. Until the fires subside, the full extent of damage will remain unknown.”