A heartbreaking look at the suffering of Australia’s wildlife after the bushfires has revealed the “carnage” of the ferocious blazes.
In a 90-minute special on Sunday, Channel 7’s Koala Rescue followed wildlife rescuers as they tried to find and treat koalas, and other wildlife left injured and homeless on Kangaroo Island.
Half the island was ravaged by fire that killed two people in January and an estimated 35,000 koalas died, a staggering number given the population nationwide was estimated at 300,000.
Donations of $1 million for medicine and other equipment have flooded in for the region’s wildlife, and organisations including the Minton Farm Animal Rescue Centre, Australian Defence Force and Humane Society International Australia (HSI) have dispatched teams to help.
Trying to find wildlife is the first challenge, with rescuers walking through ravaged landscapes to locate animals in what is best described as looking for a needle in a haystack.
Koalas are often in most need of help because they can’t escape the flames like other species can but they aren’t the only wildlife in need of assistance.
In one of the most heartbreaking scenes in the show, rescuer Kelly Donithan, who is a global expert on disaster response and is leading the HSI team at Kangaroo Island, approaches a kangaroo that she thinks is dead to check if there is a joey.
To her surprise she realises the kangaroo is still alive.
As she struggles to calm down the animal as it flails in her arms.
“If you look at her back feet, they’re going to slough off, she’ll lose all her feet,” Donithan explains.
“We’re seeing them around, these guys, and it’s hard to really tell how bad their injuries are while they’re still pretty mobile,” Donithan says, “but when you find them in this state, we know it’s because the burns have gotten so bad on their feet that their skin and tissue and everything is dying.”
Donithan struggles to hold back tears as she notes the animal’s future.
“Sadly for an animal like this, we know what the outcome is going to be, but at least she doesn’t have to lay there for another week and suffer,” she said.
“I don’t think anything should be left out to suffer any sort of pain or hunger, it’s just a really awful way for them to have to pass, it brings me peace to be able to give them that.”
The bushfires in December and January burnt through more than 200,000 hectares of Kangaroo Island, with most of the western half impacted to some degree.
The popular Flinders Chase National Park was hit particularly hard along with tourism infrastructure including signage, camping grounds and picnic areas.
In Queensland, senior veterinarian Dr Michael Pyne of Currumbin Wildlife Hospital said in 20 years he had not seen so many animals dehydrated and starving as he was seeing now.
“These are native Australian animals, they’re meant to deal with drought, they’re meant to deal beyond the normal,” he said.
Dr Pyne said he hoped the bushfires Australia had experienced this year were a one-in-100-year event as if it became the “new normal”, “our wildlife’s not going to recover”.
Meanwhile north of Sydney, the team at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital say original estimates of 350 koalas dead in the region would likely double and have described the situation as a “national tragedy”.
“It’s just carnage,” one hospital team member says. “All I can think of is all those species in there that have just copped it.”
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