14 May 2020


A tour of blackened Kangaroo Island - the scene of catastrophic bushfires - before the COVID-19 lockdown highlighted the vital importance of Endangered Species Day for WWF-Australia's Head of Healthy Land and Seascapes, Darren Grover. Last summer's fires saw the largest single loss of wildlife in modern history. Many struggling Australian species have now been pushed even further towards the brink of extinction. Donate today to help our precious wildlife and habitats recover from this disaster.

The most important Endangered Species Day ever

Every Endangered Species Day is important, to highlight the many threats faced by our critically endangered native vegatation and animals. But this one, this Endangered Species Day, is the most important ever. It’s taken on extra significance for me this year, after visiting Kangaroo Island.

I was on the island off South Australia to see two bushfire recovery projects that WWF-Australia has been supporting since the January bushfires, and the scene that greeted me was absolutely devastating. Everything to the island’s western end was charred. The only sound was the breeze. It was what I imagined it would be like if someone dropped a nuclear bomb.

Beneath my feet, in the ash and cinders, were all that remained of ancient trees and the many animals that once lived in the safety of their forests. And every now and then a skeleton or small skull reminded me of the horrific toll this fast-moving fire had taken.

But it wasn't all devastation. I also saw the remarkable resilience of nature, too. Amid the burnt and fallen trees a few - miraculously - still stood. Here and there, in nesting boxes installed by Natural Resources Kangaroo Island, Kangaroo Island’s endangered glossy black cockatoo birds were nesting - actually breeding in the burnt-out remains of their once lush landscape, driven by an instinct more powerful than any fire. About 35 per cent of known nests were destroyed. In the coming weeks, we will replace artificial nest boxes lost in the fires, supported by our partner, online furniture retailer koala.com.

Despite all they had faced, and survived, these incredible birds were still looking to the future.

A pair of Kangaroo Island glossy black-cockatoos in unburnt habitat in Cygnet Park
A pair of Kangaroo Island glossy black-cockatoos in unburnt habitat in Cygnet Park © WWF-Australia / Paul Fahy

It gave me hope, despite the grim report of the expert government panel in February, which found that the cockatoos had lost most of their feeding habitat. Sadly, they were not the only ones. The mouse-sized Kangaroo Island dunnart, a nocturnal marsupial, had 95% of its homeland razed by the blazes. The two species were among 119 animals the panel concluded were "imperilled" and needed urgent protection in the wake of the bushfires.

WWF also moved quickly to support efforts by Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife to capture images of surviving dunnarts and to build enclosed ‘runways’ to provide a passage safe from feral animals. But like 1,900 plant and animal species Australia-wide, the dunnart is listed as threatened, and struggling before the fires. The Kangaroo Island population, numbering just 300-500 individuals, was already living life on the brink. Only 50 are thought to remain and starvation is now a major concern.

Even before the bushfires, on refuges like Kangaroo Island and all across the mainland, Australia was knee-deep in an extinction crisis. We have the worst mammal extinction rate of any country in the world. The summer blazes - the biggest and most intense ever recorded - were the last thing any vulnerable species needed.

It's estimated the bushfires killed over 1.25 billion animals. So if there's anything the horrific season has taught us, it's that the Australian Government cannot continue to ignore the plight of our critically endangered species. And that the contributions of organisations like ours are more important than ever before.

Generous donations for our bushfire recovery appeal have already enabled us to play a very practical role in the emergency response on Kangaroo Island - to fund the artificial nests, camera equipment to locate dunnart population sizes, and installation of dunnart byways. But this is no time to relax. If we’re serious about threatened species conservation, we’re going to have to be vigilant for months and even years as our bush recovers.

Just because the fires have been extinguished doesn't mean our critically endangered animals are safe. Those that escaped the inferno or survived their injuries now face different, silent killers. It's going to take years for their critical habitats to repair, for forest canopies to be restored and food sources along with them. Without a home, a meal or shelter, the survivors are easy pickings for feral cats, foxes or birds of prey moving across the exposed firegrounds.

Dr Cybele Day (left) and Dr Kim Loo (right) from Doctors for the Environment Australia (DEA) with Dr Stuart Blanch from WWF-Australia among the trees in Cooper Park, Bellevue Hill. DEA has joined forces with WWF to highlight the health benefits of trees.
Aerial of the Kangaroo Island bushfire aftermath in 2020 © © WWF-Aus / think Mammoth

I've seen the devastating impact of the bushfires with my own eyes. The experience was life-changing; my feelings of loss unforgettable. But something so destructive also provides us with unprecedented lessons that we can apply elsewhere to species recovery.

I've been really proud of WWF's rapid and meaningful response. The practical measures we’ve supported, thanks to our generous supporters and dedicated and incredible partners, are helping give survivors like the dunnart and the glossy black cockatoo a fighting chance.

I'm thrilled to be associated with on-ground programs that we can see are actually working. To lead a team of specialists who have thrown themselves wholeheartedly into the immense challenge all over the continent has been incredibly rewarding. It's almost like everything in my professional life has been preparing me for this unique moment in time.

What makes this year's Endangered Species Day perhaps the most important ever is that Australia is at a major crossroad. We can either invest all the resources and energy we can in confronting the extinction crisis head-on - or risk losing the very landscapes and species that make our continent what it is.

And it's not just the wildlife that's threatened here. Restoring environments undoubtedly benefits native species but it also supports local industry, business and employment, especially in tourism and agriculture. It benefits us all in a myriad ways, so species conservation demands a united front.

As we shine the spotlight on Australia's endangered animals, you can play your part in two significant ways. You can support WWF's continued bushfire recovery efforts, on Kangaroo Island and the mainland, by giving generously today.

Secondly, you can demonstrate to the Australian Government that protecting threatened species is a matter of national importance. Something we all must take more seriously.

Opportunities to have direct input into legislation are rare. But right now the Australian Federal Government is conducting a once-in-10-year review of our Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation laws (EPBC Act 1999), which provide the major legal protections for our most distinctive plants, animals and ecological communities. It's a chance for our government to address shortfalls in the laws, and to take a stand for nature and humanity.

Almost 30,000 WWF-Australia supporters signed our petition calling on the government to ensure better protection for Australian wildlife under these revisions. Thank you to everyone who signed.

In a world turned upside-down by bushfires and COVID-19, there's one thing you can count on. WWF-Australia is as dedicated as ever to defending our native landscapes and their resident species, many of which are found nowhere else in the world. With your help, we can continue to support communities to recover from fire and to advocate on their behalf at the highest levels of government.

Thank you for uniting with us at this incredibly testing time and for putting your faith in us to make every day Endangered Species Day.