Perth, Australia – Thousands of koalas are feared to have died in a wildfire-ravaged area north of Sydney, further diminishing Australia's iconic marsupial, while the fire danger increased in the country's east on Saturday as temperatures soared.
The mid-northern coast of New South Wales was home to up to 28,000 koalas, but wildfires have significantly reduced their population. Koalas are native to Australia and are one of the country's most beloved animals, but they've been under threat due to a loss of habitat.
"Up to 30% of their habitat has been destroyed," Australia's environment minister, Sussan Ley, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "We'll know more when the fires are calmed down and a proper assessment can be made."
Images shared of koalas drinking water after being rescued from the wildfires have gone viral on social media in recent days.
Australia has been ravaged by fires since September. About 12.35 million acres have burned nationwide, with nine people killed and more than 1,000 homes destroyed. As of Friday, more than 100 blazes were burning, BBC News reported.
On Saturday, fire danger in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory was upgraded to "severe" as high temperatures built up over the region. Sydney's western suburbs reached 41 degrees Celsius, or 106 Fahrenheit, while the inner city is expected to hit 31 C – 88 F – on Sunday before reaching 35 C – 95 F – on Tuesday.
Canberra, Australia's capital, peaked at 38 C – 100 F – on Saturday, with oppressive temperatures forecast for the next seven days.
Earlier this month, Australia recorded its two hottest days ever.
Australia's government has faced criticism for its response as the fires burn, and for its reluctance to acknowledge climate change, BBC News reported.