Latest bushfire reports
As of January 9, 2020, bushfires were continuing to rage across southern and eastern parts of Australia and news of animal deaths—already heartbreaking to contemplate a week earlier—were starting to rack up into catastrophic levels nearing close to 1 billion, according to estimates by Chris Dickman, PhD, an expert on Australian biodiversity at the University of Sydney. Some are even in danger of becoming extinct. We’ve seen devastating images and footage of singed and expired koalas, kangaroos, wombats, and all sorts of rare species since the fires broke out earlier than usual this past September,consuming some 15.6 million acres of land with scant rains bringing only “very temporary” relief, according to NASA.
Both dogs and koalas are adorable in their own right. Put the two together and you have a match made in heartwarming rescue heaven. Several animal training groups, including Working Dogs for Conservation, actually teach dogs how to sniff out live koalas—either by the scent of their scat or the smell of their fur. News circulated in November 2019 on CNN about Bear, a mix of border collie and koolie, who was able to indicate to handlers that koalas were out there—somewhere—in the burnt landscape of an Indigenous Protected Area in Ballina, and that they should deploy to seek them out. Another, springer spaniel, pup, Taylor, was credited with finding eight koalas, including a mother and her joey.
Above and beyond
In early January, Australian Broadcasting Company reported that Chad Staples, the director of the Mogo Wildlife Park in New South Wales had taken the duties of his job to the next level. As fires pushed on by rapid winds drew near the zoo, threatening the 200 animals it houses, including tigers, rhinos, and a collection of rare primates, Staples enacted a special rescue plan for some of the animals: he brought them home with him. Thanks to him, red pandas, which are already at risk of extinction, some smaller monkeys, and even a tiger were far from the zoo when the fire hit. And thanks to tireless firefighting efforts in and around the zoo, all animals survived safe and sound.
Hunter becomes humanitarian
On January 4, Australia’s News shared the smile-worthy and viral story of Patrick Boyle, a 22-year old hunter who had stayed behind in his already-scorched town of Mallacoota, Victoria to rescue wildlife. When rescue efforts were delayed due to the flames that encircled Mallacoota, Hunter explained to various media outlets that he felt that it was his responsibility to do what he could for the region’s wildlife. In all, he rescued “eight or nine” koalas, delivering them to a local wildlife shelter being run out of another local’s home.
A crisis is always good for getting crafters organized to make a meaningful difference (think, sweaters for penguins after oil spills). The Australian bushfires have been no exception. Knitters (and some sewers and crocheters) from around the world have been stitching up pouches for baby marsupials—koalas, kangaroos, flying foxes, and wombats—to grow in or otherwise recover in, without their mothers available to them, according to the Guardian. Other needle wizzes have been making mittens for the burned paws of koalas and wraps for bats. As of January 7, donations from 40 U.S. States and Puerto Rico, as well as from across Europe and Asia, have flooded into the Animal Rescue Craft Guild, which organized the drive.
Rounding up supplies
The Rescue Collective, a Brisbane-based animal rescue-support organization, has been amassing all manner of supplies to help wildlife and companion animals injured in the bushfires—food, medicine, and other equipment—as well as organizing hubs where those supplies could be stored and parceled out to places in need. As of January 8, it reported on its Facebook page, it had received such a tremendous outpouring of donations that it was taking a temporary break from accepting any more items. No doubt the need will arise again, so stay tuned for more donation calls. But this is clearly a success story highlighting the generosity of so many people around the globe.
As much as we might try to prepare for disasters, environmental emergencies can be devastating for domesticated animals and livestock, as well as wildlife; folks fleeing for their lives may not be able to take their animals with them—how do you evacuate with a flock of sheep?—and sometimes, shelters are not equipped to receive animals, forcing people to leave them behind. But during the bushfires, the Guardian reports that evacuation centers have been welcoming all manner of animals, including dogs, cats, and horses, making an unspeakable tragedy for people losing everything just a little less tragic. Many pets in the 2018 Camp Fire blazes in California were separated from their owners—these pairs were happily reunited.
The kindness of strangers
In instances where shelters haven’t been able to accept animals, regular folks are stepping up to lend assistance. A graduate student named Erin Riley offered up her own paddocks to evacuees needing a place to board their animals; when the need far outgrew the space she had available, she organized a database of volunteers—called Find A Bed—who, similar to her, had come forward to offer a soft place to land for animals, as well as for humans. Now running with the help of 40 volunteers, the service has received offers from 3,500 kind strangers across Australia, Canada, and the United States, according to the Canberra Times.
Ways you can help Australia
While the fires are devastating and it’s easy to feel hopeless in the face of them, there is something you can do. Donating to one of the following worthy and reputable organizations can help in a big way. Each provides much-needed assistance and relief in a different way—from helping affected communities and rescuing koalas to supporting the volunteer firefighters, many of whom are unpaid and have put their own lives on hold to help.
- Victorian Bushfire Appeal, which helps families and communities affected by the fires
- The Australian Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery Fund
- The CFS Foundation of Volunteer Firefighters
- WWF-Australia’s Australian Wildlife and Nature Recovery Fund
- WIRES, an organization committed to helping the wildlife of the country
- The Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital
- Koala Hospital in Port Macquarie NSW
As they say, every little bit helps—and it truly does. Another thing you can do? Visit—yes, now.