27 Apr 2020
CARING FOR WILDLIFE DURING COVID-19
In this time of unprecedented change, the world has come to a standstill as we all do our part to #StayHome and help flatten the curve.
Despite the majority of Australians being in lockdown due to the COVID-19 health crisis, there’s still important progress being made to recover our forests and native wildlife from the devastating ‘Black Summer’ bushfires that tore through the country at the beginning of the year.
We caught up with Belinda Hogarth-Boyd, President of Wildcare Queanbeyan - one of our many bushfire recovery partners - to hear how COVID-19 has impacted their work and the progress they’ve made so far.
To continue to support WWF-Australia bushfire recovery work:
Has COVID-19 had an impact on the way Wildcare is working out in-the-field?
The coronavirus has impacted our work in many aspects. It’s impacted our meetings, our capacity to train new members, conduct Black Walks, run the Wildcare shop for milk supplies, and distribute donated pouches.
However we’ve introduced protocols for managing social distancing and agreed that:
- All general meetings and training are cancelled until the end of June 2020. The Training Coordinator is making one-on-one training available to members who are immediately available to care.
- A decision is to be made one week prior to each committee meeting to determine if it will proceed (depending on government requirements).
- Feed drops will continue with arrangements to ensure social distancing.
- Advice is to be provided to members on how to maintain social distancing during wildlife rescues and interacting with the public.
The biggest impact COVID-19 has had on our work is around the training of new members. Because of the bushfires, we’ve had increased interest and many new members - which is great! Our hope is that we can retain these new members and their enthusiasm as we have limited capacity to train them due to our social distancing protocols.
How is Wildcare adapting protocols for feed drops to maintain social distancing?
For the feed drops, at the feed distribution point only one car is able to be loaded at a time. We are making use of the 2-way radios that we bought for the rescues. We use the radios to guide the cars into the collection area. We can load one vehicle at a time and manage social distance for those who support our feed drops.
For the Tallaganda fireground the Recovery Team Lead visited all the properties to assess for re-growth. Based on this the number of properties has been reduced, from 40 at the peak of activity down to eight properties.
For the Tallaganda feed drops, we are delivering feed in larger quantities and the property owners distribute it over the next two weeks. This approach minimises our contact with the property owners whilst continuing the support in the areas most badly impacted by the fires.
As the President, I have also prepared travel letters for our members travelling to do feed drops. This is due to concern about being questioned for non-essential travel. This gives members and our extended volunteer network reassurance when travelling to deliver feedback. This is particularly the case for supporting the new firegrounds - Calabash (4,634 ha) and Clear Range (12,458 ha) near Michelago. We started support for these firegrounds in the first week of February. This area required travel on a major highway and the Recovery Team Lead wanted to ensure that this travel was considered essential and endorsed by Wildcare.
For the Clear Range and Calabash firegrounds, we are using a differing model to support landowners. We have located a shipping container off the Federal Highway and property owners are working to collect and sign-out their allocated feedstock. This is less intensive and suits the property owners we are working with. We re-stock this container on a regular basis with hay, pellet feed and fruit and vegetables. This work is less impacted by COVID-19 given the operating model, noting the travel letters endorsed by the organisation.
What about animal rescues and animals in care?
As noted above, we have two new firegrounds that we are supporting. As these fires were on private property, they were smaller in scale and managed much quicker than those in the National Parks. We have been conducting rescue activities in these areas with the support of property owners.
We were able to conduct a number of Black Walks in the Calabash Fireground before COVID-19. Our last Black Walk was on 8 March, and the team rescued a female wallaroo with badly burnt pads on her feet.
In the Tallaganda area, it is encouraging to see the re-growth and the animals foraging for themselves. This has been the case in the Forbes Creek area where the vegetation is recovering. Sadly, this is not the case in all areas.
We are now moving into more business-as-usual with winter being our peak period for joeys from road accidents. There are more accidents in the winter months, as the days are shorter and there are more car accidents with wildlife. This time of year also aligns with the growth-cycle of wombat and kangaroo joeys, so they’re still in-pouch and incredibly vulnerable at this age. It will be difficult to continue our rescue work as we are only able to run one-on-one training.
The only hope is that under the COVID-19 restrictions, there will be less traffic and hopefully, less accidents and joeys coming into care. Time will tell.
You can donate and help us continue to support those who are still working around the clock to help restore our forests and care for our wildlife.