OKC Zoo gives $10k to help wildlife impacted by devastating Australian fires

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TOPSHOT – A kangaroo jumps in a field amidst smoke from a bushfire in Snowy Valley on the outskirts of Cooma on January 4, 2020. – Up to 3,000 military reservists were called up to tackle Australia’s relentless bushfire crisis on January 4, as tens of thousands of residents fled their homes amid catastrophic conditions. (Photo by SAEED KHAN / AFP) (Photo by SAEED KHAN/AFP via Getty Images)

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – In response to the historic wildfires in Australia, the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden is contributing $10,000 in emergency conservation funds to support the critical care and long-term recovery of Australian wildlife.

The blazes, which have been burning across Australia for months, have razed homes and wiped out entire towns. Across Australia, nearly 18 million acres of land have been burned (that’s larger than one-third of the state of Oklahoma) — much of it bushland, forests and national parks, home to the country’s beloved and unique wildlife.

Nearly half a billion animals have been impacted by the fires in NSW alone, with millions potentially dead, according to ecologists at the University of Sydney. That figure includes birds, reptiles, and mammals, except bats. It also excludes insects and frogs — meaning the true number is likely much higher.

The total number of animals affected nationwide could be as high as a billion, according to Christopher Dickman, the University of Sydney ecologist who led the report.

Fires are nothing new in Australia, but they have been growing more intense and becoming more destructive in recent years, a problem that has been exacerbated by climate change. And animals have been on the front lines — Australia has the highest rate of species loss of any area in the world, and researchers fear that rate could increase as the fire disaster continues.

“The scale of these fires is unprecedented,” said Dieter Hochuli, an environmental sciences professor at the University of Sydney. “There are substantial concerns about the capacity of these (ecosystems) to rebound from the fires.”

Since the wildfires began in September 2019, an estimated one billion animals have perished with many of the surviving animals injured and displaced to regions in which they cannot naturally survive.

“During this time of heartbreaking devastation, the Oklahoma City Zoo stands with our friends and colleagues in Australia,” said Dr. Dwight Lawson, OKC Zoo executive director/CEO. “This crisis reminds us just how fragile and precious life is. Our goal of preserving wildlife and wild places isn’t limited by our state’s or nation’s geographic boundaries. We have a global mission that crosses every border and ocean.”

The Zoo is providing $10,000 from its Round Up for Conservation Emergency Fund to the Bushfire Emergency Wildlife Fund spearheaded by Zoos Victoria located in Victoria, Australia in support of Australian wildlife relief. The donation will be made through the Association of Zoo Veterinary Technicians, which will match contributions up to $5,000.

“As a conservation organization, the Oklahoma City Zoo raises and distributes funds to aid wildlife conservation here in Oklahoma and around the world,” said Dr. Rebecca Snyder, OKC Zoo curator of conservation and science. “This week we are contributing $10,000 to an organization that is in the field helping with the wildlife crisis in Australia.”

The OKC Zoo is home to 15 species native to Australia:

Small Mammals/Birds

  • Tammar Wallaby
  • Bennet Wallaby
  • Southern Cassowary
  • Masked Lapwing
  • Swainson’s Lorikeet
  • Green-Naped Lorikeet
  • Tawny Frogmouth
  • Kookaburra

Reptiles/Amphibians

  • Mary River Turtle
  • Magnificent Tree Frog
  • Shingleback Skink
  • Australian Snake-Necked Turtle
  • Woma Python
  • Bearded Dragon
  • Blue-Tongued Skink
  • White’s Tree Frog

Plus, female orangutan Negara, 26, came to the OKC Zoo from Perth Zoo in 2016.

“While the fires are a distance from our zoos, our vet teams have been deployed into the fire areas where they are setting up triage and critical care facilities. It is still early days and the actual fire grounds are still too dangerous for people to enter and find injured animals. However, many animals are being brought in for care, with varying types of injury. Said Dr. Jenny Gray, CEO of Zoos Victoria, “We are also concerned for animals after the fires as even if they survive the fires there will be no food or shelter available.”

All funds raised will be used for the critical care and long-term recovery of Australian Wildlife.

The Oklahoma City Zoo has provided both critical funds and invaluable conservation services of staff members to wildlife programs across Oklahoma and around the world. Since 2011, the Zoo has raised more than $640,000 in conservation funds through its Round Up for Conservation program.  When buying tickets, drinks or souvenirs at the Zoo, visitors are asked to “round up” their purchases to the nearest dollar generating thousands every month. The Zoo also sells artworks painted by animals in a program called “Art Gone Wild” and conservation wristbands with all proceeds funding Round Up for Conservation programs.

The public can also help wildlife being impacted by the Australian wildfires by donating directly to the Bushfire Emergency Wildlife Fund.

CNN has contributed to this report.

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