Bushfire Relief Project
19 Jan 2020
Recent rainfall, which extinguished some of the most persistent bush fires we have seen this season, came as a huge relief to many across the state. The Science for Wildlife Research and Volunteer teams were incredibly thankful to see the Blue Mountains bushfire threat ease during early February. However, despite the unprecedented rain fall and relief it has brought to our forests, our wildlife crisis and the broader bushfire relief mission have only just begun. In the burnt areas many water sources are now contaminated with ash and other run off contaminants. Further to this, the ash beds that have been washed away would normally provide nutrients to help vegetation recover. The rain has not yet broken the drought and the bush is likely to take some time to regenerate.
There has been a lot of confusing information on the internet on what to feed wildlife, and how to put out water during this time of need. It’s not as simple as it sounds and the key thing is to remember is to do no harm. Some foods are good for some species but might harm or even kill others. Guidelines around the provision of food and water have been set through a range of collaborative meetings, documented by Wildlife Health Australia and shared by government agencies including National Parks and Wildlife. You can learn more about how you can help wildlife here: https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/topics/animals-and-plants/native-animals/helping-wildlife-in-emergencies
A key question is, when do we stop putting out food and water? We are continuing to deploy and maintain arboreal water stations, and also food drops for a range of species in fire impacted areas. Recovery is always very site specific and we’re using satellite technology as well as ground-truthing to determine when we should phase back and start removing water stations and food. You can read more on our satellite mapping project here https://scienceforwildlife.org/using-satellite-imagery-to-effectively-deploy-critical-resources/
19 Dec 2019
Rescue of 12 koalas in front of the fire in Kanangra-Boyd National Park – we finally have access to the area we took the koalas from so we are starting the process of putting them back. Their home range areas were burnt but a patch of bush to the north was saved. To prepare to put them back, we have to collect more browse (leaves) from their home and get them back onto their normal diet. They have enjoyed some juicy leaves from the Sydney basin during their stay at Taronga Zoo and we need to make sure the trees near their homes are still edible as they have been under a lot of heat stress in the last month. A massive thank you to all of our volunteers who have kept up the browse runs to keep the koalas healthy and well-fed.
Search and Rescue – we teamed up with veterinarians and undertook search and rescue across 3 sites where we know koalas occur. We were limited to the edges of the fire grounds for safety reasons, and sadly we haven’t found much. With wildlife spread across such a vast wilderness, far from escape from the fire, most would have died in remote areas. We will continue with search and rescue as we get access to more fire grounds – although it is too late to find more burnt animals, the partially burnt trees that currently have intact canopy can sometimes die off and we might find koalas in poor condition needing care over the coming months.
Water stations and food drops – Dehydration and starvation are now the biggest threats to wildlife that survived the fires. We’re getting some rain, but in the burnt areas it is washing ash and contaminants into waterways. Koalas normally get moisture from the leaves they eat, so until the tree canopy condition improves they are likely to need access to clean water. Even in the unburnt areas koalas have been coming into care with dehydration. The under-storey has been burnt out and so there is no food for wallabies, roos, wombats or our smaller native mammals, and there is no shelter from predators. We are putting up arboreal water stations so that tree-living animals don’t have to come to ground for water where they are vulnerable to predators including foxes and cats. We are also putting out ground water stations as well as pellets for macropods and wombats while we are out there. We have put remote cameras on some of the water stations, many appear to have been used and soon we should have an idea of the species using them. So far we have deployed and are maintaining 75 water stations across 3 sites, as well as food drops.
Satellite Mapping – We have started mapping the vegetation condition, so that we’ll know when the bush has recovered enough and koalas and other species won’t need extra water. A special thank you to volunteer Ariane Weiss who is a mapping whiz and has been helping with mapping fire extent and vegetation condition, and she and Jenny Fisher have also been helping with volunteer coordination.