Australia Bushfires Raze Ancient World Heritage-Listed Forests

W460

World Heritage-listed forests whose origins pre-date the age of the dinosaurs are being destroyed by raging Australian bushfires, with conservationists increasingly fearful they could be lost forever.

Firefighters in Tasmania — a state south of the mainland known for its cooler temperatures — have been battling bushfires for 18 days, with 95,000 hectares (234,750 acres) of land burnt so far, authorities said Friday.

While no properties have been destroyed and no one hurt in the infernos — which are so numerous that firefighters from across Australia and New Zealand have been flown in to help — parts of western Tasmania’s famed wilderness have been destroyed by the flames.

“The fires in western Tasmania are occurring in basically an ecosystem which is a remnant from the geological past, so they are of immense significance scientifically,” David Bowman, professor of environmental change biology at the University of Tasmania, told AFP.

“These systems were once more widespread and indeed grew on Antarctica billions of years ago, so they are living fossils… they go back to well before the age of the dinosaurs, they are a tangible connection to Gondwana.”

Gondwana was a land mass that included present-day Africa, South America and Australia and formed the southern part of an ancient supercontinent called Pangaea.

One of the last expanses of temperate wilderness in the world, the Tasmanian Wilderness was entered into the World Heritage list for its significant natural and cultural values in 1982 and covers nearly 20 percent of the island, or 1.4 million hectares.

It includes the Cradle Mountain-Lake Saint Clair National Park and the Walls of Jerusalem National Park, home to popular bushwalking tracks.

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