Millions of Australian Wildlife Devastated by Weather Extremes


A possum with booties to protect its burnt feet being cared for by the famous Healesville Sanctuary, which itself has been closed to the public due to the fires. Photo: Herald Sun

Whilst the human tragedy of the bushfires in Victoria, Australia immediately captures the hearts and minds of people, there has also been much grief occurring in the animal kingdom.

Mike brought TH readers the heart-warming story of ‘Sam, the koala, offered water by a volunteer bush firefighter, (they recently got back together for a post rescue reunion.) But for hundreds of thousands, some say millions, of native wildlife the picture is not so rosy.Heat Stressed
Even before the brutal bushfire ravaged the countryside, species were being stressed by the record heat wave. Wildlife Victoria observed in the days leading to the worst fires in Australian recorded history, that 1,000 grey-headed flying foxes had died from the heat. A further report by Associated Press writer, Kristen Gelineau, noted that volunteers from the animal welfare group, Victorian Advocates for Animals, were forced to fill 10 giant bins with 2,300 dead grey-headed flying foxes that succumbed to heat stroke on the Saturday. said Lawrence Pope, the group's president. Volunteers tried to save some of the bats by giving them fluids and keeping them cool, Pope said, but the creatures were simply too stressed and perished.


Echidna with burnt snout and a badly burnt marsupial paw. Photos: Times Online and ABC
Millions Killed
AP writer Kristen Gelineau writes a moving article about the effect of the firestorm on native wildlife. She speaks with Jon Rowdon, president of the rescue group Wildlife Victoria. "There's no doubt across that scale of landscape and given the intensity of the fires, millions of animals would have been killed," he said. He went on to say"

"We've got a wallaby joey at the moment that has crispy fried ears because he stuck his head out of his mum's pouch and lost all his whiskers and cooked up his nose, They're the ones your hearts really go out to."

Hundreds of burned, stressed and dehydrated animals - including kangaroos, koalas, lizards and birds - have already arrived at shelters across the scorched region. Rescuers have doled out antibiotics, pain relievers and fluids to the critters in a bid to keep them comfortable, but some of the severely injured were euthanized to spare any more suffering.

Coleen Wood, carer at the sanctuary where Sam, the koala, is being looked after, also noted that:

"We had a turtle come through that was just about melted - still alive. The whole thing was just fused together - it was just horrendous. It just goes to show how intense (the fire) was in the area."

Traumatised Survivors
Some wombats that hid in their burrows managed to survive the blazes, but those that are not rescued face a slow and certain death as they emerge to find their food supply gone, said Pat O'Brien, president of the Wildlife Protection Association of Australia.

When you see photos of the absolute desolation that is the fireground, it is obvious that there is neither food, water nor habitat available to any wild critter.


Aerial shot of the fire ravaged forests in Victoria. Photo: William West/AFP/Getty Images, from Big Picture

Many of the human carers have much in common with those creatures brought to animal refuges, having also lost also their own homes, friends and family in the infernos. And it a very stressful time for them having to euthanase wildlife who are beyond rehabilitation.

Land of Contrast
Australia is a land of vast contrast. While records temperatures and bushfires savaged the southern states, in the north of the country they’ve been enduring floods, the like of which haven’t been seen for 30+ years. Like their brethern down south, wildlife in Queensland has been similarly stressed, though for inverse reasons. Sam, the Koala may have gulped down three bottles of water but its likely this snake and goanna (below) clinging to a fence were just wishing water would go away. The floods have continued for well over a week. That a long time to be stuck up a post or hanging on a wire. They weren’t alone. 62% of Queensland was ‘Flood Declared’, which, for our American readers, equates to an area 1.6 the size of Texas.


Floodwaters strand a snake near Karumba, Queensland
Photo: julie2371 from ABC Contribute


Goanna clings to barbed wire fence in flood, near Karumba, Queensland
Photo: also julie2371 from ABC Contribute

Wildlife are not just creatures worthy of our oohhs and aahhs at the zoo, or on nature documentaries, they are a vitally integral part of the web of life. The quality of our existence is intricately linked to theirs.

Offering Assistance
If you want to help the dedicated volunteers at Wildlife Victoria they have a launched an appeal to help pay for bandages, treatment, medicines and food for injured wildlife, got to their donation page.

PS. Just as I was preparing this post I received these emailed photos of yet another koala, usually a shy creature, flagging down cyclists for some water in the extreme heat that recently had Australia in its grasp, in this case near Adelaide, South Australia. Photo: Tim Noonan, ABC Local and Notes Tone Unturned

More Australian Bushfire posts on TreeHugger
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Australia Melts as Britain Freezes
Smartflo Rainwater Guttering
Quote of the Day: Australia on Fire

Tags: Animals | Australia | Drought | Natural Disasters

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