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Bushfires consume 17.9 million acres, destroying large swaths of habitat, increases threat of extinction for some species

DREAMSTIME IMAGE - Millions of Australian animals, including the native koala, have been killed, either by burning or smoke inhalation, in the bushfires that have scorched the country since September. Many other animals have been injured and have suffered massive habitat loss.

Scenes of devastation resulting from the raging Australian bushfires, including heart-wrenching photos of just some of the millions of native animals destroyed by the infernos, have prompted emergency conservancy initatives.

Jeannine Jolicoeur-Duehren, owner of Happy Heart Acres horse rescue in Scappoose, said the plight of Australia's wildlife, of which many species are found nowhere else in the world, struck her hard.

"Half a billion animals gone," said Jolicoeur-Duehren earlier this week, her voice cracking under the emotional weight of the figure. "I was so distraught. So I thought, what can I do?"

The fires have killed 27 people and have destroyed more than 2,000 homes, per updated media reports.

Some recent estimates mark as many as 1 billion animals — koalas, kangaroos, wallabies and other Australian fauna — to have perished in the bushfires, with another 500 million affected. Those affected include injured animals as well those that have suffered massive habitat destruction.

Some media reports note that the bushfires have brought many already threatened species closer to extinction.

Jolicoeur-Duehren, who worked for years as a radio DJ using the broadcast name "JJ McKay," said she reached out to media colleagues and tapped the Facebook community page, Concerned Citizens of Columbia County, to drum up local and regional fundraising support.

"I've just been sending it all out to my radio buds and they've just really stepped up and helped promote it as well," she said. "People really responded well to it."

She also donated to WIRES Australian Wildlife Rescue Organization, the leading nonprofit providing rescue and rehabilitation for Australian fauna. She additionally posted links to where others can donate on the Happy Heart Acres' Facebook page.

Celebrities, social media influencers and media organizations from across the globe have been promoting donations to WIRES in the midst of the bushfires. The organization, which is based in New South Wales, a state in Australia that has been particularly ravaged by the fires, has seen its coffers swell in response. WIRES is the largest animal rescue group in Australia, reporting more than 90,000 resuces annually, and was established in 1985.

"While we are extremely distressed at the need for an Emergency Fund and heartbroken at the impact on our wildlife we are humbled and inspired by the generosity from within Australia and from all around the world," noted a WIRES Facebook post published Jan. 6.

WIRES' fundraising goal of $6.8 million was quickly achieved, with the nonprofit collecting $8.9 million as of Jan. 5. On the Spotlight's press day, Thursday, Jan. 9, the organization's website had again crashed.

"Our systems are struggling a little and if you are having trouble submitting a donation and can try a little later in the day it may help," noted a Jan. 5 social media post on the WIRES Facebook page.

Anyone interested in donating to WIRES or learning more about the organization can visit www.wires.org.au. The organization additionally has social media pages, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts.


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