Among those species is the greater glider, a tree-dwelling marsupial that can glide up to 100 metres between trees but can’t move far beyond its local habitat.
James Todd, from the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, told ABC Radio that other threatened species in the region had also been affected by the fires, including the long-footed potoroo, the brush-tailed rock-wallaby, the spotted-tail quoll, the yellow-bellied glider and the diamond python.
But authorities admit it could be weeks, if not months, before the full extent of the damage to wildlife is known.
“Until the fire grounds are declared safe, we can’t really go out there and start looking for injured wildlife, or treating them, or assessing them,” Mr Todd said.
“Obviously, the scale of what we’re dealing with is enormous.”
In the meantime, the department says it will establish a wildlife triage centre where injured animals can be taken. Trained vets will assess and treat those animals, or in some cases, they may be euthanised.
This summer’s bushfires have already destroyed more than 1400 homes and killed 26 people but the catastrophic disaster also presents a future biodiversity challenge, with at least half a billion animals affected, according to University of Sydney estimates.
Friends of the Earth spokesman Ed Hill said protection of human life and property was the priority, but “we need to act to protect remaining pockets of unburnt habitat to give species the best chance of recovery”.
“Around 90 per cent of the recently announced Immediate Protection Area in East Gippsland falls within the burnt zone. While we don’t know the full extent of the damage to those forests right now, it’s not looking good for threatened species, old-growth forests and rainforests within those areas,” he said.
Charles Darwin University professor John Woinarski said the greater glider population had declined by about 80 per cent in 20 years. And while it could also be found in other parts of the state, East Gippsland provided “some of the highest quality habitat across their range”.
“It’s almost entirely dependant on eucalyptus foliage, so even if they survive the fires, they still require eucalyptus trees to live,” he said.
Farrah Tomazin is a senior journalist and investigative reporter for The Age, with interests in politics, social justice, and legal affairs.