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Unnatural disaster

Life on land

“I will say this simple thing, all wildlife in Australia is in crisis because of the severe impacts of climate change being experienced across the Australian continent, the situation will continue to deteriorate for a long time to come”. Peter Hylands

Peter Hylands, Andrea Hylands

May 21, 2023

Australia’s wonderful wildlife now needs your help more than ever before. It is estimated that the Australian bushfires so far this year have added an additional 2 per cent to global greenhouse emissions and will add as much as one billion tons by the end of the fire season, the end result will be significantly more than the United Kingdom will emit for 2020.

Wombat killed in the Cobargo fires


We turn our attention once again to events at the Cobargo Wildlife Sanctuary in New South Wales. I am writing this on 25 January 2020, the message from Sara below is from two days ago. A C-130 water bomber did indeed go down killing three very brave American fire fighters and on the property of another friend. A tragedy built upon tragedy.

"Everything is a bit out of control again here, wind like I have never experienced before. Gary was on the roof of the shed trying to strap it down as it was going to lift off, the wind was so strong it was lifting him with the roof. It was absolutely terrifying. Bushfires all around again, we are ok but the roads are closed and we think a water bomber has gone down" Sara Tilling

Regional rescues are occurring, as are food drops to wildlife in some areas. Local groups of rescuers are joined by major animal organisations such as Animals Australia and Wires volunteers in New South Wales.

Gary and Sara

Funding and need

In Victoria, Wildlife Victoria is also engaged in animal rescue but Victoria and New South Wales have closed many areas where wildlife will require assistance. So in many places wildlife rescuers are waiting to enter the fire grounds and it may be just too late for many animals. I understand the problems but this issue needs a rethink. Not good enough by far.

Wires say this on their website in relation to New SouthWales.

“WIRES volunteers are on standby to enter fire grounds once the RFS and National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS) declare an area safe to access, however this can take up to three weeks after a fire has passed through.”

In addition to these problems numerous wildlife shelters and places where wildlife is cared for and rehabilitated, like Cobargo Wildlife Sanctuary, have been destroyed, and need to be rebuilt.

In Victoria the Victorian Government has just announced a$17.5 million package, aimed at giving endangered plants and animals the best chance of survival through “habitat restoration, predator and pest control and immediate salvage operations”.

The Australian Commonwealth Government had previously announced its $50 million emergency wildlife and habitat recovery fund saying that half of the fund would go to frontline responder groups including wildlife carers, hospitals and zoos including Zoos Victoria, Adelaide Zoo and Taronga Zoo (NSW). The balance would help fund a government advisory panel led by Dr Sally Box, the newly appointed Threatened Species Commissioner.

We were in Canberra when the $50 million fund was announced and politicians were talking about predator control. My comment on both these funds is this, while the funds should be applauded, this is new territory for these wildlife unfriendly governments and given the scale of the disaster and the size of the funds announced to date, which are small in relation to what has occurred, there needs to be a strict set of governance standards applied to the fund’s distribution and use. We particularly need to be clear on what predator control means, what species are they targeting, where and by which methods.The New South Wales Government, also talking about predator control, appears immune to the catastrophic plight of its wildlife (climate change and super fires), saying there will be no changes to killing of wildlife under a range of mechanisms, including the commercial trade in wildlife.

“Every single animal left must be given every single chance.” Sara Tilling

Andrea and Sara, Cobargo

The tally so far

All wildlife in these fire zones need help, not just threatened species.

Populations of all species will be seriously impacted. As of 7 January 2020 the Victorian fires had already entirely severely burnt 34 of the state's 104 major parks, 31 per cent of the state's rainforests, 24 percent of wet or damp forests and 34 per cent of lowland forests had been burnt.In all this carnage, at least 185 Victorian species, many rare and threatened, have been affected by the fires, including 19 mammal species, 13 frog species,10 reptile species, 9 bird species, 29 aquatic species and 38 plant species.

With all this going on Parks Victoria were still culling native wildlife in the state and national parks where fires had not made their devastating impact. I have asked the Victorian Government a series of questions which they have refused to answer, for what I expect are obvious reasons. Freedom of information requests are being filed in relation to these matters.

Welcome to New South Wales

Killing wildlife for fun continues just as before

The Victorian Government has quietly advised shooters that there will be a full season (4 April to 30 June) for shooting native Stubble Quail Coturnix pectoralis in the state. This shooting will occur in habitat shared with the critically endangered Plains- wanderer Pedionomus torquatus, a species for which less than one thousand individuals remain (IUCN Red List 250-999 mature individuals). 

Plains-wanderer - going, going, gone? Photo Mat Gilfedder

To the untrained eye, the poor little Stubble Quail looks similar to the Plains-wanderer. We still await the duck-shooting announcement in the state.

“The use of a trained gun dog has the potential to increase hunter success while enabling the hunter to participate in and appreciate an age-old tradition”. Victorian Government GMA - hunting Stubble Quail, January 2020

Lack of planning in the face of denial

What has occurred here, just in the way climate change denial by Australia’s Commonwealth Government has led to inaction and lack of planning, with devastating results, and thanks to some very brave and well-co-ordinated work from fire fighters and others to mitigate the disaster to some measure, the mass killing of wildlife, or enabling of it, by state and territory governments has caught them flat footed in terms of responding quickly to the plight of wildlife caught in the catastrophic fires. The government cultures have been about killing wildlife, rescuing wildlife is something very different, the gaze of the world has forced a change.

That change needs to last, but I doubt it will. Soon it will be business as usual. It is up to us all to make sure business as usual is consigned to the dustbin of history where it belongs.

So what needs to happen?

  • This is not just about killing ‘predators’ which are unlikely to have survived in many of the severely burnt habitats. We assume the species these governments are going to target include cats and foxes (this is already happening) and introduced herbivores such as deer – which are numerous in the eastern states. All this is however not direct action to assist individual native species – so a sophisticated approach is required rather than the usual stuff that has being going on for decades anyway. There is no room for slipshod simplistic solutions here, the complexity of the problems for Australia’s web of life will not allow it.
  • A co-ordinated species action plan between the east coast states of Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria along with South Australia. For example as significant numbers of Koalas have died in the fires across their range in all these states the Commonwealth Government proposes to clear 44 hectares of habitat critical to the survival of the Koala for a housing development. The Koala has all but been exterminated in Queensland. This is typical of what goes on;
  • A halt to the extensive deforestation in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria until proper assessments can be made of the outcomes for both plant and animal species;
  • Burnt forests must not be logged – the fires will be seen as an opportunity to exploit forests, which were previously protected. Any such activity will devastate wildlife recovery. It is likely that a number of Australian politicians will call for national and state park protections to be loosened, this is so they can be exploited in a range of ways. This must be resisted;
  • A halt to the state government enabled and promoted vast scale killing of Australia’s wildlife for ‘fun’, so called damage mitigation and commercial activities, and that includes Macropod species as populations are being decimated by a range of threats. For example prior to the fires there was a move by the South Australian Government and its department of environment to begin commercial killings of Macropod species, including the Tammar Wallaby and killing of Koalas amid claims of exploding populations on Kangaroo Island(the island was a refuge for wildlife all but exterminated on the South Australian mainland). Since the devastating fires all wildlife on KangarooIsland looks to be in deep trouble;
  • A relocation plan to re-introduce animals back into the devastated areas where they previously lived. Claims that animals cannot be moved are long-term and typical claims from government departments. Animals can be moved providing soft release techniques are used, this will be expensive but there is no alternative; and
  • Imagining the future - a proper recognition of the impacts of climate change on wildlife populations across the country and plans commensurate to these threats.