Tag Archives: Bushfire 2019–2020

Koalas get new home and firefighters honoured

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ON 23 JANUARY 2020 southern Australia’s Black Summer bush fires swept through the Peak View district between Captains Flat and Cooma. They caused a widely-reported twofold disaster.

On this day Two Thumbs Wildlife Trust Koala Sanctuary was totally enveloped in the blaze, many native animals perished and tragically an air tanker and three American crew trying to protect the sanctuary also died when their tanker crashed next to the property.

Five months later wildlife rescuer and sanctuary owner James Fitzgerald felt he could relive that terrible day with us and talk about his recovery for the sanctuary and the koalas.

CAPTION (main image): James Fitzgerald and newly-housed koala make acquaintance. (Image: Jacob Howard)

Throughout the district and as you enter Two Thumbs, you see evidence of the fires on the small clusters of trees that cover the land. After travelling along a dirt road for a few kilometres and past the third gate we approach a destroyed house, which was previously James’ home. (Image: Jacob Howard)

destroyed-homstead-Two-Thumbs-cr-Jacob-HowardA fireplace stands tall in the middle of the corpse of the house. The remaining metal has been completely warped and bent with everything being covered in flowing patterns of blue and brown/orange rust. Incredibly, the clothesline in the backyard appeared to be almost untouched by the fire. James tells us later that when the fire swept through, he had two koalas in care at the house and two goannas. He could not reach them.

Shortly after we arrive James and colleague Dr Karen Ford (from ANU) drive past us on their way to collect fresh tree branches for their koalas in enclosures. Soon, we follow them further into the burned property. About halfway up a hill we reach an opening of flat unburned land. This open area is the site of new koala housing.

Several shipping containers are scattered around the site but the main focus is the koala enclosures. Two large and airy structures are already built and a further two are in process of being built.

“I’m using some insurance money to build these two new enclosures, and some generous donations are helping us build more,” James said. He is living in a caravan himself and is happy that after six months he is getting some electricity back. He has six enclosures in mind. James explains that they chose this space because it was one of the few areas that the fires didn’t destroy.

James and Karen are introducing a new koala to the sanctuary. He leans in obligingly for ‘meeting’ photos. They tell us this koala was being cared for at ANU after he suffered heavy burns to his feet in the fires but is now healthy enough to live in the enclosures at Two Thumbs.

The koalas stay here for about eight weeks as they continue recovery from their wounds, before being released.

“We named three of the koalas after the American firefighters who died in the plane crash — Ian, Rick and Paul. The families of the Americans have actually met the koalas and they were very appreciative that we named the koalas after them. We greatly acknowledge their sacrifice.”

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Karen tracking koala movements. Image: Jacob Howard.

James said they had found about 50 koalas since the fires. More than they had hoped for appear to be maintaining themselves in the burned environment. James and Karen are tracking the location and recovery of some.

Dr Karen studies the nutrition of eucalyptus leaves and she is tracking koala movements at Two Thumbs to understand how they behave post fires. She brings out her computer with the tracking details of three radio-collared koalas and shows us where they have been and how far they have travelled over the past day.

“They often have their favourite areas that they like to go to and favourite paths they like to take,” she explains. But they can travel amazing distances in 24 hours, she is finding. At the back of the property which is burned as far as the eye can see with a few unburned patches, we try and locate some of the koalas through a radio transmitter. Each koala has its own frequency so they know which animal they are listening in on.

The radio works as a sort of sonar radar with the frequency of beeps telling you how close you are to the koala.

“The koalas that survived were just lucky enough to be holding onto a tree that wasn’t burned down,” said James. Those areas that are still green is where the fire changed direction and that’s where the koalas will go to feed and sleep.”

Before we leave, Karen is able to pick up the signal up of two of the koalas but they are very faint.

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Image: Maria Taylor

Where the airtanker crashed

On the way out of sanctuary James takes us to the site where the tanker crashed. The plane crashed just outside of Two Thumbs’ property but you can see the crash site from the sanctuary. You can see the clearing where the plane went down very clearly.

“The plane went down on the 23rd which was the biggest day for the fires and when the plane went down, we didn’t even hear it because the fires are incredibly loud,” said James. Smoke was thick and wind was high.

Bulletin reporter Jacob Howard meets koala_cr Maria Taylor

Bulletin feature reporter Jacob Howard meets koala. Image: Maria Taylor

James, who has experienced wholesale destruction of his home and his rescue work, is strong and resolved on a comeback, for koalas and also for the other native animals (kangaroos, wallabies, birds and reptiles) on his property. He is sadly realistic too. He tells us he is now back to an earlier point of rebuilding the local koala population. It took 40 plus years to get to the pre-fire level, one of the few areas in this part of south eastern NSW with an increasing population.

But with this continuing help and care there is hope for these koalas.

[NOTE: On smaller screens click on images to view larger.]

 

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Dingo (Wild Dog) baiting in Southeastern Australia and Bushfire Recovery

Dear Minister/s,

17 February 2020

The Honourable Sussan Ley MP
Minister for Environment, Australia
Address: Parliament House CANBERRA ACT 2600
minister.ley@environment.gov.au

cc: The Honourable David Littleproud MP, Minister for Agriculture, Australia
(
minister.littleproud@agriculture.gov.au)
cc: The Honourable Lily D’Ambrosio MP, Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, Victoria (
lily.dambrosio@parliament.vic.gov.au)
cc: The Honourable Jaclyn Symes, Minister for Agriculture, Victoria
(
jaclyn.symes@parliament.vic.gov.au)
cc: The Honourable Matthew Kean MP, Minister for Energy and Environment, New
South Wales (
office@kean.minister.nsw.gov.au)
cc: The Honourable Adam Marshall MP, Minister for Agriculture, New South Wales
(
adam.marshall@parliament.nsw.gov.au)
cc: Dr Sally Box, Threatened Species Commissioner
(
ThreatenedSpeciesCommissioner@environment.gov.au)

The undersigned wish to express our expert opinion on the status of dingoes across Australia in light of the current bushfire emergency. At the time of writing, more than 10 million hectares has been burnt across Australia, including 1.2 million hectares in Victoria and 4.9 million hectares in New South Wales. Across southeastern Australia this represents burning of major dingo habitat zones in National Parks and State Forests. We commend the Federal, NSW and VIC State Governments for their focus on assisting fauna and flora recovery after the catastrophic 2019/2020 bushfire season, however, the proposed ‘feral predator’ aerial baiting plans are counterproductive to that aim. In particular, we wish to express concern about plans to undertake widespread 1080 “wild dog” aerial baiting across burnt habitat in NSW and VIC.

The prevailing wisdom is that introduced predators such as foxes and feral cats pose the most significant risk to native fauna (marsupials, birds, reptiles etc). These risks need to be proactively and swiftly managed to protect (already struggling) threatened species that have been endangered by recent bushfires. We agree that proactive measures to limit introduced predators may need to be taken but these should be targeted and not endanger native predators such as quolls, dingoes and varanids. Currently proposed aerial baiting programs will not target cats, leaving threatened species under increased pressure from these predators. It is also important to iterate that “wild dog” baiting will kill dingoes, leading to widespread mesopredator release, removing suppressive pressure on cat and fox populations exerted by dingoes.

Aerial baiting in bushfire affected southeastern Australia is an unacceptable risk to native carnivores Aerial baiting with 1080 poison poses an unacceptable risk to native predators such as quolls, dingoes and varanids because it is unknown if food scarcity in burnt landscape may increase bait consumption leading to poisoning of quolls or varanids. Furthermore, dingoes are highly susceptible to 1080 baiting and are included as a direct target of “wild dog” baiting efforts. Importantly, best-practice guidelines to limit 1080 baiting impacts on quolls suggests that all baits should be buried to a depth of more than 10 cm andaerial or broadcast surface baiting should only be used in areas where it can
be demonstrated that there is a low risk to spot-tailed quoll populations
(EPBC Act Policy Statement 3.4 — Significant impact guidelines for the endangered spot-tailed quoll Dasyurus maculatus maculatus (southeastern mainland population) and the use of 1080). Currently it is unknown how quolls and other non-target species will be impacted by aerial baiting in burnt habitat. Arguably, the recently proposed NSW “wildlife and conservation bushfire recovery” plan should be referred to the Federal Environment Minister under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 for assessment.

We strongly emphasise the ecological importance of terrestrial apex predators in  biodiversity resilience and ecosystem functioning. Dingoes are the sole non-human land-based top predator on the Australian mainland. Their importance to the ecological health and resilience of Australian ecosystems cannot be overstated, from regulating wild herbivore abundance (e.g. various kangaroo species), to reducing the impacts of feral mesopredators (cats, foxes) on native marsupials (Johnson & VanDerWal 2009; Wallach et al. 2010; Letnic et al. 2012; Letnic et al. 2013; Newsome et al. 2015; Morris & Letnic 2017). It would be hypothesised that continued dramatic reduction of dingo populations, by aerial baiting, will enable introduced mesopredators such as foxes and cats to exploit burnt areas unchecked, posing a high risk to threatened native species. The impacts of feral cats and red foxes are likely to be amplified in disturbed ecosystems, such as those burnt by bushfires. Indiscriminate and non-target specific lethal management should not be implemented if there is a risk to the persistence of threatened native fauna or ecosystem resilience.

We would urge the Federal, NSW and VIC State Governments to focus bushfire recovery efforts on proactive evidence-based measures including:

Installation of exclusion fences to protect recovering vegetation and wildlife communities (short-term)

Targeting lethal control measures to key refuge areas and important sites for remaining populations of threatened species

Limiting lethal control to targeted methods such as shooting, trapping or ground-baiting where steps are taken to limit non-target bait consumption

Providing supplemental shelter, food and water to identified remaining populations of threatened species

Increasing post-fire weed control to protect regeneration efforts.

 

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Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park (SA) with 400 koala fire victims

Kangaroo-Island-koalas-Humane-Society

No habitat to return to; generous funds raised.

“Originally when we asked for the $15,000 about 50 percent of the koala habitat was burned, so we did have plans on releasing them into the remaining 50 …
[Sam Mitchell of Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park told the ABC].

“Since then, another 30 — maybe even more — percent of the habitat has gone, so now we have to house them for quite some time until we know we can release them, because we have to wait for the forests to regrow.”

Kang-Island-bushfire-animal-care

Mr Mitchell said not only koalas but other marsupials and reptiles needed care. (gofundme)

Park ‘working flat out’ to house injured animals

Mr Mitchell said his business employed 12 staff but would slow down “dramatically” as a result of the fires.

He said he had been “overwhelmed” with medical supplies and the park was continuing to receive up to 50 new koalas per day, as well as other injured animals.

“I’ve always dedicated my life to saving animals and I’m doing everything I can for these guys,” he said.

“Every day we’re seeing more and more animals, we’re building more and more infrastructure, we’re going through a lot more medical supplies.”

Mr Mitchell said a final decision had not yet been made on how all of the money raised would be spent.

“People keep saying ‘what are you going to do with these koalas in a year’s time? What are you going to do with all these supplies?’ That’s tomorrow’s problem,” he said.

READ THE FULL STORY:
Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park owner featured in viral drop bear video says he is facing backlash for donation deluge
By Daniel Keane, ABC Radio Adelaide


MAIN IMAGE: A Humane Society worker gives water to a koala on Kangaroo Island.
SOURCE: Humane Society

AROUND THE WEB: RELATED STORY
RSPCA calls for Kangaroo Island volunteers amid fears of ‘second wave of mass wildlife deaths’ (due to starvation)
By ABC News

 

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