Thousands of koalas feared dead as massive Australian wildfires destroy habitat

Thousands of koalas are feared to have died in a wildfire-ravaged area north of Sydney, further diminishing Australia's iconic marsupial, while the fire danger accelerated on Saturday in the country's east as temperatures soared.

The mid-north coast of New South Wales was home to up to 28,000 koalas, but wildfires in the area in recent months have significantly reduced their population.

Koalas are native to Australia and are one of the country's most beloved animals, but they have been under threat due to a loss of habitat.

Environment minister Sussan Ley said: "Up to 30% of their habitat has been destroyed.

Australia wildfire
Smoke rises from wildfires in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales (Australian Broadcasting Corporation/AP)

"We'll know more when the fires are calmed down and a proper assessment can be made."

Images shared of koalas drinking water after being rescued from the wildfires have gone viral on social media in recent days.

Ms Ley said: "I get mail from all around the world from people absolutely moved and amazed by our wildlife volunteer response and also by the habits of these curious creatures."

About 12.35 million acres of land have burned nationwide during the current wildfire crisis, with nine people killed and more than 1,000 homes destroyed.

Fire danger in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory was upgraded to severe on Saturday, as high temperatures built up over the region.

Sydney's western suburbs reached 41C, while the inner city is expected to hit 31C on Sunday before reaching 35C on Tuesday.

Australia wildfires
Flames engulf an area of the Blue Mountains as large parts of Australia continue to battle massive bushfires (Australian Broadcasting Corporation/AP)

Two wildfires in New South Wales are at the "watch and act" level issued by fire services.

Canberra, Australia's capital, peaked at 38C on Saturday, with oppressive temperatures forecast for the next seven days.

Meanwhile, New South Wales emergency services minister David Elliott has gone on an overseas family holiday – which comes in the wake of Prime Minister Scott Morrison's much-criticised recent trip to Hawaii.

Mr Morrison, who apologised for going away, eventually cut short his holiday and returned to Sydney last weekend.

Mr Elliott said he will be briefed daily while overseas, and he added: "If the bushfire situation should demand it, I will return home without hesitation."

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