In 2019, massive bushfires ignited in Australia. They raged all summer. And with no way to escape the flames, tens of thousands of koalas died.

Stuart Blanch of World Wildlife Fund, Australia, says it was a terrible event to witness.

“I think what was hardest for me was hearing the sound of koalas screaming as they burned, seeing the footage of whole forests incinerated in front of your eyes, and knowing that so much of what many people, including myself, had worked for over decades to protect forests and wildlife populations, that they were being overwhelmed by the fires,” he says.

The bushfires were devastating to a species that was already declining.

Deforestation and development have destroyed or fragmented a lot of koala habitat. And global warming threatens to bring more extreme fires.

With koala numbers dwindling, Australia is taking action. In February, it listed the koala as an endangered species across most of its range.

“It was a grim decision. It was a hard decision. But it’s the right decision,” Blanch says.

He hopes it leads to ambitious action to restore koala habitat and help them avoid extinction.

Also see: Wildfires and climate change: What’s the connection?

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media