18 Mar 2020
HELICOPTER FOOD DROPS PROVIDE RELIEF FOR STARVING WILDLIFE
Operation Food Drop – a partnership between Foodbank NSW/ACT, Woolworths, and the NSW Government’s Saving our Species Program
Despite the immediate fire threat having now passed, your home has dramatically changed, and you now face the threat of starvation. That's been the frightening reality for many Australian animals living in burnt-out landscapes like the Blue Mountains, northwest of Sydney.
To provide emergency relief for threatened species like the brush-tailed rock wallaby, WWF-Australia teamed with Foodbank NSW/ACT, Woolworths and NSW Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) to make some very special home deliveries.
As NPWS Project Officer Trent Forge explains, supplementary feeding is vital to sustaining this precious species.
"The Gospers Mountain megafire was started by a lightning strike back in November 2019, and it has impacted a range of common macropods like the red-necked wallaby, swamp wallaby, eastern grey kangaroo and common wallaroo. But this region is also home to the endangered brush-tailed rock-wallaby, a small marsupial that was once abundant throughout southeastern Australia,” said Trent.
“Since European settlement, these rock-wallabies have disappeared across much of their former range. They've been hunted for their pelts, predated by foxes, and have also had to compete with feral herbivores like goats and horses.
“As the name suggests, they live in rocky escarpments and boulder piles, which means they are very vulnerable to fire. They can't move as readily as other animals in search of food, and it's going to take time for that food to regrow.
“Under the NSW Government's Saving our Species program, we have 10 priority sites that we manage for this species, and seven were impacted by fire. We estimate that 80% of rockwallaby habitat has been affected. So we need to provide food at a number of these sites to help ensure the brush-tailed rock-wallaby survives as a species,” said Trent.
“We can't access many areas on foot, so we're dropping sweet potatoes and carrots from a helicopter. Carrots are quite nutritious and hold a lot of moisture too. We'll supply 1.2 tonnes of carrots and sweet potatoes to five rock-wallaby colonies in the Wolgan Valley, then drop another tonne to three colonies in the Capertee Valley, just over the range. We're also feeding a further six colonies in Yengo National Park.
“In addition to that, we're feeding drought-affected populations further to the north, in Curracabundi, and fire-affected colonies on the Northern Tablelands, in the Oxley Wild Rivers and Guy Fawkes River national parks.
“Where we have been able to access sites in the Jenolan Caves area by vehicle, and on foot, we're installing camera traps to monitor the rock-wallabies that have survived, as well as any other animals attracted by the food. We've captured images of a number of rockwallabies, which is a good sign. Swamp wallabies and even reptiles are also coming to eat the carrots and sweet potatoes.
“These landscapes have evolved with fire for thousands of years. The eucalypts are already sprouting epicormic regrowth, and the grasses are coming back, so these environments will recover. We hope the wildlife will too,” said Trent.
Senior Manager of Species Conservation with WWF-Australia, Tim Cronin, said funding the helicopter food drops is a practical way that WWF supporters are boosting fire recovery efforts.
"Providing provisional food is vital to species like the brush-tailed rock-wallaby that are at immediate risk until natural vegetation regrows. Given the extent and severity of these bushfires, it's really promising that some populations remain, but we simply don't know the status of many species yet," said Tim.
“Some that were endangered before the bushfires may now be even closer to extinction, and those species that were common or threatened may be pushed into that endangered category. It's vital that we do all we can to help those animals that have survived, especially in the more difficult, inaccessible terrain.
“WWF is really proud to be partnering with the Saving our Species program and NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service to help the brush-tailed rock-wallaby. Some vegetation is already regrowing following recent rain, and soon these animals will have natural food sources, but the emergency food is vital, and only possible because of the generosity of our supporters.
“We're now starting to turn our attention to a longer-term response to the fires. We know that something like 10 to 12 million hectares has been burned across Australia and that more than a billion individual animals have been affected, possibly killed, and we're starting to get a handle on what that means in terms of recovery. It really comes down to habitat protection and restoration.
“We need to urgently protect the important habitats that have survived, the forests that will become refuges for the wildlife that remain. These intact remnants are really important arks for us to regrow biodiversity and repopulate the fire-affected areas. Protecting what we haven't lost is vital, and we're going to have to be really targeted and smart about how we do that.
“WWF-Australia has had an enormous response from supporters right around Australia and the world. As an international organisation, we have a broad reach, and a network that can garner the support required to respond to crises like this,” said Tim.
“Through the WWF Australian Wildlife and Nature Recovery Fund, we’ve been able to deploy urgent support to wildlife and habitats impacted by bushfires.
“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.”