22 Mar 2019


Tree clearing inflicts so much death and suffering on native animals in New South Wales that it is “the worst animal crisis no one’s heard of”.

So says a new report by WWF-Australia, Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service Inc. (WIRES), International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and Humane Society International (HSI).

Public awareness of some issues, such as the plight of caged hens or mulesed sheep, is relatively high. However, people know very little about the impacts of tree clearing on native animals.

To give context, there are 2.5 million caged hens in NSW, about 7.5 million sheep are mulesed in the state annually, but tree clearing kills up to 10 million animals in NSW each year.

“The pain and suffering of native animals when their tree homes are bulldozed really is a hidden crisis,” said WWF-Australia spokesperson Stuart Blanch.

“Australia has the worst extinction rate in the world for mammals. Our report exposes what native animals endure as they are erased from the landscape."

“The path to extinction is paved with countless individual misfortunes for wild native animals: injuries, sickness, privation, suffering and untimely death,” he said.

A previous report estimated tree clearing killed more than 500,000 mammals, more than 600,000 birds and 3.8 million reptiles each year in NSW.

However, based on satellite analysis of increases in tree clearing following the 2017 repeal of the Native Vegetation Act, this figure is likely to have at least doubled to about 10 million animals lost annually.

WIRES CEO Leanne Taylor said the axing of forest protection laws two years ago was a backwards step.

“The escalation of tree clearing means more and more wild animals are suffering and dying. Our already over-stretched wildlife carers are left to pick up the pieces,” said Ms Taylor.

Animals can suffer lacerations, broken limbs, internal haemorrhage, crushed organs, be buried alive or incinerated in wood piles.

They can suffer entanglement injuries in fences and powerlines, get hit by cars or attacked by dogs, cats and other predators, or suffer heat stroke or dehydration as they try to escape bulldozers.

If they arrive unharmed at new habitat they face overcrowding, food shortages, and conflict with resident animals. The resulting stress can lead to disease and a fatal decline.

The report calls for the strengthening of laws regulating tree clearing, mandatory wildlife salvage (including the relocation of at-risk animals to suitable habitat that has capacity), and increased support for the rescue services, hospitals and veterinary clinics that save or treat native wildlife.

WIRES recorded 436,187 wild native animals in NSW suffering known or possibly human-caused impacts passing through their rescue system in the six years from 2011/12 to 2016/17.

There were more than 208,000 birds, nearly 160,000 mammals including more than 8,000 koalas, and nearly 70,000 reptiles.

The numbers of animals treated has been increasing every year since 2012-13.

Wild animal welfare in context in NSW
Wild animal welfare in context in NSW © WWF-Australia