UPDATE: Australia Wildfires Curtail Touring in Hardest Hit Areas

The death toll is expected to surpass 200 as wildfires burn across Australia’s southern state of Victoria. Reuters reports that more than 50 bodies remain unidentified. The area northeast of Melbourne was hardest hit, with several towns and more than 750 homes destroyed.  Higher temperatures and less rainfall due to climate change is considered a contributing factor to the severity of the fires. Road closures are numerous in the region. The burned area is being treated as a crime zone and arson is highly expected, since there were no reports of natural occurrences such as lightning that could have set off the blaze.

While the loss of human lives and destruction of property has been of historic proportions in the Australia wildfires, there has also been a terrible toll paid by the country’s wildlife.
Billy B. Martin, co-owner of Houston-based Let’s Travel Together, and an Aussie Specialist, made the case that Australia’s wildlife is a huge part of the country’s appeal for tourists. If climate change isn’t properly addressed, a significant number of Australia’s wild creatures could perish. Martin has forwarded an email he received from Janine Duffy of Echidna Walkabout, a small tourism business totally focused on seeing Australia's animals in the wild.

Duffy writes:

“The Kangaroo is Australia's greatest symbol.  People all over the world, even tiny children recognize the shape and distinctive gait of this special animal.  Summed up in the words of a 5 year old I once met in Venice Beach, California: "Australia? Is that where kangaroos come from?" 
Climate change is killing kangaroos right now.  Bushfires, started by drought, and followed by drought are hitting them from every side. 
Climate change is killing koalas. Drought reduces the water content, and increases the toxins, in eucalypt leaves. Our research has found evidence of kidney damage - most likely due to water shortage - in all tested koalas.
Climate change is killing our famous Cockatoos and Kookaburras, Emus, our beautiful parrots and honeyeaters. I picked up 10 dead Cockatoos near the You Yangs on that killer Saturday - no fire there, just extreme heat. 118 degrees F is too hot even for birds to live.
Climate change is now threatening our lives, our businesses and our wildlife.  What sort of Australia will we have left if our beautiful animals have gone?  What will tourists come to see?  What will we tell that 5 year old in Venice Beach when he comes to see a wild kangaroo?  "Sorry mate, there's none left."
A recent study published in the December 2008 issue of the University of Chicago’s Physiological and Biochemical Zoology finds that an increase in average temperature of only two degrees Celsius could have a devastating effect on populations of Australia’s kangaroos. The study shows that climate change could cause kangaroos to disappear from half of their current range, and the possible extinction of one large kangaroo species.
We can stop this, or at least, slow it down.”

Janine Duffy
Echidna Walkabout

Billy B. Martin, co-owner of Houston-based Let’s Travel Together, and an Aussie Specialist, has been keeping track of the wildfires impact on the region. “Everything’s holding its own in Adelaide,” he says. “I’ve heard from Janine Duffy of Echidna Walkabout, a tour operator, and all of her tours are operating, although there is one area where she’ll be suspending tours, that’s the Kingslake National Park area.”

Martin also relates the news that he’s been contacted by Josh Oakes of Melbourne Private Tours and their tours in the Healesville area have been curtailed.

“I have 20 clients preparing to go to Australia and haven’t received a single call about changing their plans,” says Martin. “If they did call, I’d assure them we could re-route their travels in Australia.”

Tourism Victoria and Tourism Australia have issued a report on listing areas of Victoria that have been affected by fires including towns in the Yarra Valley, Victoria's High Country and Gippsland.

The towns affected in these regions include:
Yarra Valley (northeast of Melbourne, affected areas an hour and a half from Melbourne)
St. Andrews
Gippsland (southeast of Victoria, affected areas two hours from Melbourne)
Victoria's High Country (northeast of Victoria, affected areas three and half hours from Melbourne)
Beechworth surrounds
Bogong Village

The majority of Victoria's wine regions remain unaffected.  These include:
The Mornington Peninsula
Bellarine Peninsula
The Murray


While particular areas of Victoria's regions are impacted by the current fire situation, Melbourne has not suffered.

Melbourne Airport is fully operational and airline services in and out of Melbourne have not been impacted. 

Once in Melbourne, if international visitors are planning to travel out to Victoria's regions we encourage all visitors to make informed decisions and to check the relevant websites/call centers for the latest bushfire updates.

Useful information sources:
• If traveling, listen to ABC Local Radio or community radio stations
• For latest bushfire information, check the CFA (www.cfa.vic.gov.au) and DSE (www.dse.vic.gov.au/dse/index.htm) websites 
• Road closures:  For road closures check the Vic Roads traffic.vicroads.vic.gov.au/viewer.htm)  website 
• Park closures: For park closures, check the Parks Victoria (www.parkweb.vic.gov.au) website 
• Transport: For updates on rail and bus transport visit V Line  (www.vline.com.au/index.aspx?sid=0)
• To donate to the 2009 Victorian bushfire fund to assist individuals and communities affected by devastating bushfire visit the Red Cross (www.redcross.org.au/default.asp) website


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