3 Mar 2020


Batemans Bay veterinarian Dr Kate Toyer has witnessed Australia's frightening, catastrophic bushfires first-hand. When strong northwesterly winds pushed the ‘monstrous’ Currowan fire, which burnt for 74 days and across 499,621 hectares, into her South Coast town on New Year's Eve, she took shelter at an evacuation centre with her family, about 2,000 other people and all the animals in her care. Flames licked the exterior of the Eurocoast Veterinary Centre, but fortunately, it was spared. Many other properties were not so lucky, and hundreds of homes were destroyed in its path.

Six weeks later, WWF-Australia went to visit Kate at her clinic and hear about her experiences. 

Eurocoast Veterinary Centre was on the edge of destruction
© WWF-Australia / Leonie Sii

"The fires got pretty close and we went early on New Year's Eve to the evacuation centre, where we waited all day. The overall feeling was one of tension and anxiety.

People talk about the 1994 fires, which were very large fires in this district, but only one property was lost then. This time the fire burnt to the doorstep of our veterinary hospital. In the Batemans Bay area, hundreds of properties were destroyed. It felt like Armageddon.

We came back and everything was black. It's almost impossible to describe; it was like a moonscape. It just felt like there was nothing there; everything was literally vaporised.

Burnt forest at Batemans Bay
© WWF-Australia / Leonie Sii

We’ve since seen some injured wildlife in our practice. The good cases are the birds that are just exhausted from flying from tree to tree, trying to find somewhere to rest and get some food and water. Most of the time we've been able to get them to carers, they've recuperated for a week or so and been able to be released.

Unfortunately, many of the larger species, particularly the marsupials caught in the bushfire, were significantly burnt. Many were in so much pain that we recommended they be humanely euthanised. Animals don't come out of something like this with a couple of limbs that we can bandage for a couple of weeks. The sheer heat, the dryness ... injuries were much more dramatic.

There's very little doubt in my mind that climate change has contributed dramatically and significantly to the fires. Our Earth no longer has the ability to regulate itself; the disruption of water cycles means we don't have the rainfall we need to keep things under control. I think those factors contributed to the perfect storm of dry bushland and unrelentingly hot and windy weather that produced the fires.

My hope is that we will recover. However, I am concerned we’ll see local extinctions of certain species, in particular smaller marsupials like feather-tail gliders. I haven't seen any feathertail gliders or antechinus since the fires went through.

We need our bush to recover and regenerate, so hopefully, our wildlife can return and we can restore our ecosystems, which are so beautiful. As a species, we have raped and pillaged our planet for our own selfish gain. We have destroyed the forests she breathes with. We've poisoned the waters that run like blood through her veins. Mines have stabbed at her heart.

She has tried to absorb the damage we've inflicted, tried to recover and repair herself, but everyone has a breaking point. Backed into a corner, she's lashed out and burnt us with a fury that none of us could have dreamed of, and who could blame her? Even now, though, she hasn't given up on us. Green sprouts on what seemed like irreparable scars reach out to us with a message of forgiveness for our neglect.

Our Earth needs our help. We need to stop. We need to stop ripping up her forests. We need to stop polluting her waterways. We need to stop mining and scarring her flesh.

She needs time to recover. If we do not heed this warning, then she will die and we will die with her. Please, let's all work together to help make our world beautiful again. We need our environment. Without it, we are nothing.

Thank you to all donors to WWF, whose work is important. WWF's donations to veterinarians will help to treat wildlife. They will also go to rehabilitation networks and to help recover our forests and diversity so that we can again live on a planet that is beautiful and diverse."

Abigail Sexton and Dr Kate Toyer standing in burnt-out bushland
© WWF-Australia / Leonie Sii

WWF-Australia is proud to be supporting veterinarians like Kate through our WWF Australian Wildlife and Nature Recovery Fund. Through the fund, we’ve been able to supply grants to vets operating on the front line, providing care to injured wildlife in fire-affected regions all across Australia. Learn more about how donations are making a difference.