Australia Today

Bushfire-Affected Animals Might Not Be Able to Return Home for Months

Australia's fire season has devastated native ecosystems, and it's probably going to be a while before displaced animals are able to survive on their own again.
28 January 2020, 4:12am
Koala in rehabilitation
Image via Saeed Khan / AFP (modified)

The devastation that Australia’s ongoing bushfire crisis has wreaked on the country’s natural environment is staggering. More than 10 million hectares of bush, forest, and parks across the nation have already burned and huge habitats for native wildlife such as koalas, kangaroos, and wombats destroyed. According to current estimates, more than a billion animals have been killed—entire species driven to the brink of extinction—and countless more have been affected.

Even as fundraisers, charities, and wildlife refuge centres around the country rise to the occasion and attempt to rehabilitate displaced and injured animals, the fallout from the fires could be felt by Australia’s native fauna for months, maybe years to come. Volunteers from the Sydney Wildlife Rescue told the ABC that some animals won't be able to return to their habitats for at least six months as a result of the destruction caused by the blazes.

Sydney Wildlife Rescue founder Joan Reid explained that while regenerating the natural landscape and habitats is one thing, the ecosystems in which these animals live need to be restored before they can be safely released back into the wild.

"It's a matter of them having a home to go back to; a suitable home to go back to," she told the ABC. "There's no use releasing something if there's no food for it or water… We have to have had rain, there needs to be grass and fresh leaves on the trees, flowers for bats and possums, the lizards have to have insects, [and] all that takes time."

The scale and severity of the impact varies from one species to the next. Koalas have lost about 30 percent of their habitats in northern New South Wales, for example, and are still being found injured and dehydrated throughout many parts of the state (the animal pictured below was rescued yesterday morning by New Zealand volunteers near the Snowy Mountains in southern NSW). According to University of Sydney ecologist Professor Chris Dickman, however, other species have lost as much as 90 to 100 percent of their homes.

“For [those animals], particularly if they're threatened in the first place, we're looking at pretty dire consequences," he told the ABC. "Extinctions are really very possible, very likely a result of these."

This baby wombat was found on the side of the road near a fire-ravaged town over the weekend. Its eyes were weeping and closed, its feet blackened, and there was soot up its nose, according to Orphan Wombat Rescue, a charity group that was thankful for this rocking device to help in the animal's recovery.

Charities both locally and abroad are being inundated with donations to help care for injured and displaced wildlife—in some cases, more than they can handle.

"THANK YOU for your support, solidarity, kind words & thoughts, and crafted items so far. We ask you, PLEASE do not send any more items to Australia," the Animal Rescue Collective Craft Guild, which works with the Animal Rescue Cooperative, posted on Facebook last week. “The remaining animals need food because everything else is burnt.”

Juanita Rilling, director of the Centre for International Disaster Information in the United States, told the BBC that this is a common problem during disasters and relief efforts—and that unneeded donations can easily obstruct or distract from efforts to outsource more important goods and services.

"Certainly in the last 50 years worldwide, the response to almost every major emergency has been affected by a flood of unsolicited donations that get in the way," she said.

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