According to the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, glossy black cockatoos now have a “patchy” distribution in Australia, having once been widespread in the south-east of the country.
Before the fires, they could be found in areas from Mallacoota to the coast near Eungella in eastern Queensland. There was an “isolated population” in Kangaroo Island.
Conservationists are in a race against time to get into fire-ravaged areas, try to assess what has been lost, and to salvage what they can.
But their task has been complicated by the risk of new fires engulfing areas that previously escaped blazes, or fires reigniting in already-burnt pockets of forest.
“Our biggest concern is the tree-fall risk, and the risk of getting trapped by the existing fires is so high we have to make sure it’s safe for the people that get in there to get in as quick as they can,” Mr Norman told ABC radio.
The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning will on Friday host an emergency summit of environmental scientists, biologists and conservation managers from across the country, to establish seed banks for rare plants, breeding programs and canvass how best to protect animals and plants that have survived fires.
“For some of these species the numbers are really low, or the plant or animal is only in a really small area,” Mr Norman said.
“So there’s freshwater fishes, there’s birds, there’s rare plants, that the entire world’s population exists in that landscape [and] some of them are within the full footprint of the fire. That’s the only known place that that particular plant grows or that particular animal lives.”
DELWP has also established emergency wildlife and biodiversity teams, to lead people into burnt forest areas as quickly as possible.
Other organisations joining the emergency response include Zoos Victoria, which has sent frontline veterinary support to East Gippsland to help care for wildlife affected by the bushfires, and the Royal Botanic Gardens, which is helping with seed collecting.
The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald revealed on Thursday that ecologists fear “billions and billions” of animals could have been wiped out in fires in Victoria, NSW and South Australia. It is a vastly higher estimate than had previously been made.
Among those lost were pockets of endangered and critically endangered species; some of which may have been lost forever.
The last remaining habitat of the long-footed potoroo, a critically endangered miniature kangaroo, was right in the path of the blazes.
Other endangered species likely to have been affected include the spotted-tail quoll, brush-tailed rock-wallaby and corroboree frog.
“The scale of it is gigantic, and when you combine [the burnt areas of] Victoria and NSW together you’re getting close to the area of Tasmania, so that gives you a sense of scale,” Mr Norman said.
“It’s totally unprecedented and, really, it’s completely connected to climate change predictions and impacts and scale … for rainforests to burn – these systems have probably never burnt or rarely burnt and been able to come back but some of these systems won’t come back.”
DELWP recommends that those wanting to support injured wildlife visit https://donate.zoo.org.au/donation
Bianca Hall is a senior reporter for The Age. She has previously worked in the Canberra bureau as immigration correspondent, Sunday political correspondent and deputy editor.