Bush Fires in Australia

Mother and child koalas at Natureworld in Tasmania, Australia.

Mother and child koalas at Natureworld in Tasmania, Australia.

My heart goes out to the people of Australia as thousands of acres burn, taking the lives of more than 200 people and millions of animals.   A few weeks ago we visited the beautiful state of Victoria, the air fragrant with eucalyptus and other exotic perfumes.  The aromatic oils that produce the delicious fragrances are also what make the trees so explosive and combustible when the weather is very hot and dry, as it is now. Before the fires in Victoria, we had driven through the aftermath of a smaller bush fire in Tasmania.  Everything was scorched and some fires still smoldered.  The air was thick with an acrid burnt odor.

I loved the people and adored the animals everywhere we traveled in Australia.  (Not so crazy about the huge venomous tiger snake we encountered on a bush walk, though!)

Below is an Associated Press news story about the animals, as well as some of the animal photographs I took on our visit.  I’ve added an AP photograph of a rescued burned koala, too. See the link to a love story between rescued koalas at the bottom — “Rescued Sam, a young female, has a New Beau, Bob.”  To learn more about what is being done and to donate, click on the Victoria Wildlife link, at the bottom.

SYDNEY – (By AP writer Kristen Gelineau) – Kangaroo corpses lay scattered by the roadsides while wombats that survived the wildfire’s onslaught emerged from their underground burrows to find blackened earth and nothing to eat.

Wildlife rescue officials on Wednesday worked frantically to help the animals that made it through Australia‘s worst-ever wildfires but they said millions of animals likely perished in the inferno.

Scores of kangaroos have been found around roads, where they were overwhelmed by flames and smoke while attempting to flee, said Jon Rowdon, president of the rescue group Wildlife Victoria.

Kangaroos that survived are suffering from burned feet, a result of their territorial behavior. After escaping the initial flames, the creatures — which prefer to stay in one area — likely circled back to their homes, singeing their feet on the smoldering ground.

“It’s just horrific,” said Neil Morgan, president of the Statewide Wildlife Rescue Emergency Service in Victoria, the state where the raging fires were still burning. “It’s disaster all around for humans and animals as well.”

Some wombats that hid in their burrows managed to survive the blazes, but those that are not rescued face a slow and certain death as they emerge to find their food supply gone, said Pat O’Brien, president of the Wildlife Protection Association of Australia.

Edith the wombat was rescued from her mother's pouch when her mother was hit by a car. Edith is now living at Natureworld in Tasmania, Australia.  Wombats are noctural and often are hit by cars when they venture out in the dark to look for food and other wombats.

Edith the wombat was rescued from her mother’s pouch when her mother was hit by a car. Edith is now living at Natureworld in Tasmania, Australia. Wombats are noctural and often are hit by cars when they venture out in the dark to look for food and other wombats.

The official human death tollstood at 181 from weekend’s deadly fires and authorities said it would exceed 200. While the scope of the wildlife devastation was still unclear, it was likely to be enormous, Rowdon said.

“There’s no doubt across that scale of landscape and given the intensity of the fires, millions of animals would have been killed,” he said.

Hundreds of burned, stressed and dehydrated animals — including kangaroos, koalas, lizards and birds — have already arrived at shelters across the scorched region. Rescuers have doled out antibiotics, pain relievers and fluids to the critters in a bid to keep them comfortable, but some of the severely injured were euthanized to spare any more suffering.

“We’ve got a wallaby joey at the moment that has crispy fried ears because he stuck his head out of his mum’s pouch and lost all his whiskers and cooked up his nose,” Rowdon said. “They’re the ones your hearts really go out to.”

In some of the hardest-hit areas, rescuers used vaporizing tents to help creatures whose lungs were burned by the searing heat and smoke.

One furry survivor has emerged a star: a koala, nicknamed “Sam” by her rescuers, was found moving gingerly on scorched paws by a fire patrol on Sunday. Firefighter David Tree offered the animal a bottle of water, which she eagerly accepted, holding Tree’s hand as he poured water into her mouth — a moment captured in a photograph seen around the world.

Cheyenne Tree treats a Koala nicknamed Sam, saved from the bushfires in

Cheyenne Tree treats a koala nicknamed Sam that was saved from a bush fire in Gippsland, Victoria, Australia. Associated Press photograph.

“You all right, buddy?” Tree asks in a video of the encounter as he approaches the koala. Later, as Sam thirstily gulps from the bottle, he quips: “How much can a koala bear?”

Often mistakenly called koala bears because they resemble a child’s teddy bear, the marsupial is actually a rather grumpy creature with a loud growl and sharp claws.

Sam is being treated at the Mountain AshWildlife Shelter in Rawson, 100 miles (170 kilometers) east of Melbourne, where she has attracted the attention of a male koala, nicknamed “Bob,” manager Coleen Wood said. The two have been inseparable, with Bob keeping a protective watch over his new friend, she said.

Meanwhile, workers at the shelter were scrambling to salve the wounds of possums, kangaroos, lizards — “everything and anything,” Wood said.

“We had a turtle come through that was just about melted — still alive,” Wood said. “The whole thing was just fused together — it was just horrendous. It just goes to show how intense (the fire) was in the area.”

The animals arriving appear stressed, but generally seem to understand the veterinarians are trying to help them, Wood said. Kangaroos and koalas are widespread in Australia and are not particularly scared of humans.

Volunteers from the animal welfare group Victorian Advocates for Animals filled 10 giant bins with 2,300 dead grey-headed flying foxes that succumbed to heat stroke Saturday, said Lawrence Pope, the group’s president. Volunteers tried to save some of the bats by giving them fluids and keeping them cool, Pope said, but the creatures were simply too stressed and perished.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Pope said. “They’re very endearing animals and to see them die right before our eyes is something that wildlife rescuers and carers just find appalling.”

Links to koala love story, video of Sam and a Victoria Wildlife rescue website are below the photos.

A kangaroo joey nurses from its mother.  (It could be a wallaby. I'm still trying to tell the wallabies and kanagroos apart.)

A kangaroo joey nurses from its mother at the Tasmanian Devil Conservation Park neat Port Arthur. (It could be a wallaby. I’m still trying to tell the wallabies and kangaroos apart.)

Grey-headed flying foxes, a fruit bat, hang from the trees in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, Australia.

Grey-headed flying foxes, which are fruit bats, hang from the trees in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney, Australia.

A link to a post about rescued Sam and her new koala boyfriend, Bob.   Koala Love Story. Rescued Sam has a new beau, Bob.

To learn about wildlife rescue efforts in Victoria and to donate, click on:  www.wildlifevictoria.org.au

Video of Sam:  http://cosmos.bcst.yahoo.com/up/player/popup/?rn=3906861&cl=11987651&ch=4226714&src=news

 

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9 Comments

Filed under Animals, Australia, Environment, Life, Nature, Personal, Photography, Random, Travel

9 responses to “Bush Fires in Australia

  1. Tears are rolling down my cheeks as I read.. for the humans, for the animals. There must be a way to to help out from so far away..I’ll google up the groups mentioned, email to see how to go about it.
    Thnx!

    To learn more about the animal rescue efforts and to donate, you can go to this website: http://www.wildlifevictoria.org.au
    Cathy

  2. Happy you’re back and I can’t wait to read your stories about Australia! So sad about the fires, the people and animals. Your fruit bats are gross.

    You just need to get to know some fruit bats, then you’ll love them. They are so fascinating, and cute, too! Cathy

  3. alwaysjan

    I love that wombat and the other bats too! Southern California has its share of wildfires, but nothing compared to this. It’s hard to fathom the huge toll this fire’s taken on animal life (I’m lumping humans in there with the animals.) Now I’m off to Google wombats!

  4. I find that I almost avoid reading about things like this b/c they sadden me so. It’s sometimes overwhelming to think of all the souls (human and animal) that you can’t help in this world, but… I guess if we all just do our best to do what we can then… that’s potentially a lot of folks doing a lot of good.

  5. Oh… btw, fruit bats are actually great– I have a picture of me holding a big one that’s actually pretty endearing… bats have just gotten a bad rap. Really! 😉 And if you hate mosquitoes, bats are one of the most effective “repellents” around– one bat can eat up to 600 mosquitoes/hour!!

    I’d love to see the photo of you and the bat.

    We watched the nightly bat flight from under the bridge in Austin, Texas. It was so cool! It’s a major event there. Millions of small bats flew out at dusk like a ribbon of smoke a mile long. I don’t think Austin has any mosquitoes because the bats eat them all! Cathy

  6. Wanda Walkabout

    Great piece and wonderful comments. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!!!

  7. Hey,

    I’m enjoying the site.

    Keep up the Good work.

    Love Heaps

    Sky

  8. Great post. My heart was breaking for Australia during the fires — and I was frantically trying to reach friends in Victoria, to make sure they were okay. (They were, fortunately, but they knew many who had been lost.) I appreciate seeing the animals that were rescued, as I know many (especially slow-moving creatures, like the wombat and koala) would be killed by the fires.

    As for the mother and joey, they’re wallabies. The difference between a ‘roo and a wallaby is the number of teeth — a wallaby has one set fewer of molars, so the face is a little shorter and less horsey looking. Those dainty, tapering little faces, along with the location in Tasmania, tells me they’re wallabies — I’m betting Bennett’s wallabies.

    Thanks for sharing the images and information.

    Thanks so much for your comment and for identifying the wallabies. I had been thinking that wallabies have sweeter faces…. How are things going in Victoria now? Cathy

  9. hi i am Cheyanne tree treating a koala in my unform 😛 🙂 my dad is great!

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