As Australia battles wildfires that have razed more than 40,000 square kilometres across five states, volunteers are trying to save wild animals caught in the inferno.
Australia’s bushland is home to a range of Indigenous fauna, including kangaroos, koalas, wallabies, possums, wombats and echidnas. Officials fear 30 per cent of one koala colony on the country’s northeast coast, or between 4,500 and 8,400, have been lost in the recent fires.
Authorities have no exact figure on how many native animals have been killed, but experts say it is likely in the millions.
A possum severely burned by bushfires in Australia’s Blue Mountains laps water from a bowl as her rescuer holds her gently in a towel, while at a nearby home, a kangaroo with bandaged feet is rocked like a baby by another carer.
Tracy Burgess, a volunteer at Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Services (WIRES), said it was concerning that rescuers were not receiving as many animal patients as they would expect.
“We’re not getting that many animals coming into care,” Burgess told Reuters as she held the injured brushtail possum. “So, our concern is that they don’t come into care because they’re not there anymore, basically.”
Reptile expert Neville Burns, who is looking after a red-bellied black snake rescued in the Blue Mountains, fears wildlife populations will not recover for years.
“I see that there’s going to be a huge destruction in the population of reptiles in the area and that applies to birds, mammals, everything. I think the damage is going to be seen for years,” he said.
With limited government funds, WIRES relies heavily on donations from the public and the goodwill of volunteers like Burgess who care for the animals in their own homes.
The possum being looked after by Burgess was found in the rural town of Clarence in the World Heritage listed Blue Mountains region, 100 kilometres west of Sydney.
Another WIRES rescuer, Tracy Dodd, is caring for the badly scalded kangaroo that was found in the same town, where several houses were destroyed by fire.
“He was just sitting under a bush and his mum was not too far away but he was obviously not well enough to hop around,” Dodd said as he cradled the kangaroo. “He’s had lots of fluids and now he’s off to the vet.”
WIRES and other groups usually discourage people from feeding wild animals, but wildfires have prompted them to change that advice to encourage people to provide much-needed food and water.
Photos and videos on social media in recent weeks have shown dehydrated animals crawling to residential pools and bird baths.
Burgess hopes she’s in time to save her possum patient, especially since she discovered the small marsupial is carrying a passenger.
“Once we got the pouch open, a tiny little hand came out with claws on it, so, yeah, there’s a pinkie — very little baby unfurred possum,” Burgess said. “So she’s a ferocious mother who has clearly done her best for her bub.”