21 Feb 2020
REINFORCEMENTS FOR THE FRONT LINE
It's impossible not to be moved by the heartbreaking images of Australian animals burnt, injured and displaced by the bushfires. Those that have survived still face months of rehabilitation and an uncertain future after losing their homes. In Queensland, WWF-Australia is working with the RSPCA to rescue and treat animals that have fallen victim to fire. We're supporting RSPCA Queensland's Wildlife Hospital, its staff and dedicated carers to give survivors - many of them koalas - a second chance at life.
Here, CEO of RSPCA Queensland Darren Maier explains how donations from generous WWF supporters are making a powerful difference.
What role has RSPCA Queensland played during the bushfire crisis?
We are the only RSPCA in Australia with a wildlife hospital, and ours is the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere. We've had a massive intake of animals since the bushfires. In January we were getting just over 80 animals a day. About half of these are birds, but about one-quarter are marsupials, like koalas. In November and December 2019, alone, we had nearly three times the number of koalas come through - just under 150 each month.
We take animals in, provide triage and veterinary care, and work with a team of licensed carers in the community to get them back to health and ready for release. That's placed a huge strain on our resources and staff, who have worked some really long hours to keep up with the demand.
What have the animals been suffering from?
We've seen animals with burns, smoke inhalation and other health issues associated with dehydration and starvation. Sometimes they've been displaced because their habitat has been burnt out.
What do you do for animals arriving at the hospital?
They come in, and we provide critical veterinary care and treatment. Some of these animals we can't help, but lots of them we can, and there have been some really wonderful stories. We've had a couple of koalas, a mother and baby we called Ainsley and Rupert, who were found clinging together on a burnt tree after fires near the Gold Coast. They had burnt pads and were suffering from smoke inhalation. They're now just at the point of having their final vet checks and will soon be ready to go. But our challenge, of course, is that we've got nowhere to release them to because all their habitat has been burnt.
So what happens to koalas after they've been treated?
When they’re stable medically, they go out to volunteer carers in the community for rehabilitation, until they can be released into the wild. It might be months before their habitat regenerates. Like the hospital staff, these carers have an immense passion for what they do. They're the most incredible people, who give their life to caring for animals. I think everyone just hangs on to every one of these success stories and feels completely personally attached to the animals. Our ability to help and make a difference is what keeps everybody going.
What sort of demand have the fires placed on carers?
Before the fires they were already coping with animals impacted by drought and the trauma we see during the spring breeding season when koalas are on the move. Now their workload has doubled. The little koalas that are bottle or syringe-fed require 24/7 care. They need to be fed every three hours, just like a human baby. Our carers also need to monitor any minor injuries, ensure the animals have enough food, perform hygiene checks and bring them into the hospital for regular medical check-ups. Burnt pads on the feet of koalas can take a long time to properly heal. Dressings need to be routinely changed. The commitment of our carers to getting animals ready for release is amazing. We couldn't do what we do without them.
How important is your partnership with WWF?
Less than 5% of our funding comes from the government. Our ability to partner with organisations like WWF-Australia and to raise money through the community is what keeps us going, and gives us the ability to help the 80 animals a day that we're receiving. Without WWF and the support of the community, we wouldn't be able to do the work we do, and that would be a real tragedy for the animals.
During this catastrophic bushfire season, over 10.7 million hectares of precious Australian forest has been burnt, and an estimated 1.25 billion animals killed. Through the WWF Australian Wildlife and Nature Recovery Fund, we’ve been able to deploy urgent support to wildlife and habitats impacted by bushfires.
Since 20 January 2020, we’ve made more than AUD$2 million immediately available to organisations like the Queensland RSCPA to help cope with the influx of injured wildlife. We’re also working with governments, businesses, scientists and communities to ensure long-term plans and projects are in place to restore and protect critical wildlife habitat.
A huge thank you to our supporters, in Australia and around the world, who have got behind our emergency response, and now that the fires are out, we’re working to restore what we have lost.