Wildlife rescue centers around Australia are being swamped with native animals rescued from the catastrophic bushfires, with caretakers warning that the loss of so much habitat will likely postpone the species’ return to nature. With the wetter weather forecast for parts of eastern Australia, the focus of wildlife care is turning from emergency treatment of injured and burned animals to obtaining the food and space needed to care for them until their environment recovers.
John Moore, a Getty photojournalist located in the United States, spent weeks touring the firegrounds, shooting photographs of determined rescuers – primarily volunteers – assisting in the rescue of wildlife in peril.
Giant eagles were among those transported to Higher Ground Raptors in the NSW Southern Highlands. Peggy McDonald, the raptor center’s creator, described her position as “the finest job on the earth,” noting that many of the large birds had an “amazing” capacity to engage with humans they perceived would benefit them.
“I’m witnessing an upsurge in the number of birds [being delivered], particularly juvenile raptors who are famished,” Ms McDonald said. Among the species under her care were brown falcons, boobook owls, wedge-tailed eagles, and sea eagles.
“People believe that birds can just fly away [from fires], but they’ve lost their area and their prey,” she explained. Ms McDonald said one sea-eagle came with fire damage so severe that “part of its feathers had melted down to its body.” That bird, along with others, was healing in the enormous free-fly aviary inside the center.
Meanwhile, Janine Davies has witnessed the number of flying foxes raised at the Shoalhaven Bat Clinic and Sanctuary in Bomaderry on the NSW South Coast more than quadruple as a result of heatwaves and bushfires.
In recent weeks, a large number of grey-headed flying foxes, a keystone species important for pollination of eucalypt forests, have di.ed. Volunteers in the neighboring Kangaroo Valley region discovered 2500-3000 de.ad bats on the ground amid extreme heat and humidity last weekend alone, with a similar number dying in the trees, she added. “They seemed to be descending from the sky. Two-thirds of the [Kangaroo Valley] colony had vanished “Ms Davies said that the creatures were already on the verge of extinction. While the heat k.i.l.led many flying foxes, the bushfires destroyed the majority of their food source.
Because of their importance as pollinators, koalas, possums, birds, and insects “would suffer as well” if forest regeneration is delayed, she warned. Bats in care consume up to half a kilogram of fruit each day, ranging from apples and pears to rock melon, and with a population of 200 or more, her center will soon consume 100 kilos of fruit every day. Craig Whiteford, Zoos’ general manager for vulnerable species, said the Healesville Sanctuary in Melbourne has collaborated with colleagues from the ACT, NSW, and even Queensland.
“We’ve had vet and vet nurse teams travel out to the triage centers in Mallacoota and Bairnsdale [in Victoria], and 22 very wounded koalas have come back to our vets for extensive care,” he said, adding that the sanctuary now houses eight in.ju.red koalas. More than a dozen endangered eastern bristlebirds were also rescued from the path of the fires and transferred to Melbourne Zoo until it was safe for them to return to the wild.
The facility was also collaborating with partners in New South Wales to provide so-called Bogong Bikkies to aid the severely endangered Mountain Pygmy-Possum. The biscuit replicates the nutritional content of Bogong moths, which were already in decline before the fires, providing the possums an opportunity to survive in the wild until food supplies gradually return, according to Mr Whiteford. “As the flames quiet down, we will shift from rapid emergency actions to the long, hard task of restoration,” he said, adding that efforts will involve continued study and breeding of vulnerable species like alpine skinks and corroborree frogs.