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Americas
3 Feb 2017

‘Worst ever’ forest fires ravage Chile’s wildlife

 Forest fires that are battering central and southern Chile © Shutterstock
Forest fires that are battering central and southern Chile © Shutterstock
By Irene Lorenzo

As strong winds continue to fuel the forest fires that are battering central and southern Chile, wild animals are fleeing the forests towards inhabited areas in search of food and shelter. CODEFF (BirdLife in Chile) has mobilized volunteers to help them.

Do you want to help Chile's wildlife? Donate through PayPal below.

*If you are donating from the United States and would like a receipt for tax purposes, please contact Wendy Clark at wendy.clark@birdlife.org before making your donation. U.S. donations requiring tax receipts should not be made through PayPal.

A series of wildfires with multiple focal points have been affecting the central and southern regions of Chile since mid-January, stoked by high temperatures, low humidity and strong winds. The extension of these fires has been described by the media as the worst forest fire in Chile’s history, affecting seven of the country’s 15 regions.

The fires have already had a terrible human cost; thousands of people have had to abandon their homes for their safety, and over 1,500 houses have been completely destroyed. Eleven people have been confirmed dead, many of them firefighters. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of both local emergency services and international aid from countries such as the United States, Mexico and Peru, the country’s people are getting the help they need.

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But humans aren’t the only species affected by the wildfires. Those that live in safe areas have reported that wild animals have started fleeing into towns, leaving their habitats to look for food and shelter. Wildlife rehabilitation centres across the country are treating all manner of animals affected by the fires: various species of snakes, birds and even larger felines such as the colocolo Leopardus colocolo and the cougar Puma concolor.

Rehabilitation centres are helping wildlife affected by the fires © CODEFF/Metropolitan Zoo vets 

The regions of central Chile are very rich in biodiversity and host a variety of endemic species such as the Chilean mouse opossum Thylamys elegans and the Kodkod Leopardus guigna. It’s difficult to estimate the real damage these fires are causing in these forests but we do know that over 511 thousand hectares have already been burned as of 31 January. Of these, more than 50% is land used for forestry, around 20% are prairies and bushes, another 20% are native forest and the rest is agricultural land.

From the beginning, CODEFF has been contributing to the tracking, rescue, care and recovery of wildlife affected by the fires. They are working with teams of veterinarians and have trained over 100 volunteers to offer help in the most affected areas.

This wounded fox was taken to a rescue centre © CODEFF/Metropolitan Zoo vets 

CODEFF is running a campaign to collect medicines and medical supplies for the treatment of burned animals. Safety equipment is also welcome, as it is used for volunteers – this includes helmets, filter masks, leather gloves and safety shoes.

They are also coordinating with various government agencies and other NGOs to go to the most remote areas in search of injured animals.

This eagle will need rehabilitation before being released back into the wild © CODEFF/Metropolitan Zoo vets 

One of the main concerns at the moment is that some of the areas affected by the wildfires have been assessed as being Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) by BirdLife International. The damage needs to be assessed and sadly CODEFF can only monitor the situation for now. Analyses are being carried out through remote sensing and once they have more information, they will deploy new teams to help the affected wildlife.

If you live in Chile and own medical supplies and safety equipment you could donate, please get in touch with Mauricio.valiente@codeff.cl

If you wish to help CODEFF’s work, donate with the PayPal button below.

*If you are donating from the United States and would like a receipt for tax purposes, please contact Wendy Clark at wendy.clark@birdlife.org before making your donation. U.S. donations requiring tax receipts should not be made through PayPal.