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Wildlife, money and numbers

Life on land

“Rehabilitation of orphaned milk-dependent pouch young of common species such as macropods and koalas is not supported as these animals require significant long term care and cannot be successfully returned to the wild”. Victorian Government

September 17, 2023

Early in 2020, and we had spent weeks in these terrible fires, in New South Wales, the ACT and Victoria, we drove from one place to another in the thick grim smoke. One night in Canberra the black rain came just as it does after an atom bomb explodes in the atmosphere.  

These ferocious fires had destroyed vast regions of Eastern Australia large amounts of money had been raised to rescue and care for fire injured Australian wildlife. 

“Fires in that state have burned 31% of rainforests, 24% of wet or damp forests and 34% of lowland forests. Among the worst affected species was the eastern ground parrot, which was believed to have lost all its Victorian habitat”. Age, Melbourne

The fires were so fierce that vast number of animals did not survive the intense heat. Many animals did however survive. Sadly, most of the animals rescued appeared to be from private land, often at the edge of National and State Parks, which have been closed to rescuers and vets, as rescuers were turned away from these places by government staff.

“The 2019-2020 Victorian fires were not like any I have seen before. Given the vast expanse of land affected and the amount of forest lost, we would expect to have to rescue hundreds upon hundreds of animals, every day, for weeks, if not months. But that is not what we are finding. What has happened to our wildlife? Where are the bodies? Where are the injured animals that need to be saved? I fear that the delays of gaining access to fire grounds has been disastrous” Manfred Zabinskas OAM, Five Freedoms Animal Rescue, 2020


These fire grounds were dangerous of course, but if it was safe enough for government staff to enter these places then it was safe enough for experienced vets and rescuers. My understanding at that point (it was mid-February 2020) was that, after the fires, Zoos Victoria vets (there are just a small number of vets) entered the fire grounds in places like Mallacoota and received animals from public lands. The majority of these animals were Koalas. But in very low numbers given the overall catastrophe. Vast areas received no help for wildlife.

“On 23 January 2020, the Victorian Government announced $17.5 million to undertake immediate action to support Victoria’s bushfire-impacted wildlife and biodiversity. Funding has been allocated to program activities under seven thematic areas, including immediate reconnaissance, wildlife welfare, emergency extraction, threat management, maximising resilience, and knowledge and program management”. DELWP

As an indicator of what has occurred, despite our efforts to stop this happening, in the enormous fire grounds In Victoria’s Gippsland, Victorian Government staff, while blocking access to highly qualified vets and animal rescuers, had reported the following in the massive fire grounds in Victoria:

“In the Bairnsdale rescue centre in the west of this part of Gippsland, 135 Kangaroos were sighted, six were euthanised, that means shot, none were treated. As for Koalas, which are always a PR problem for Australian Governments,152 were sighted, eight were euthanised and 39 triaged (means some sort of help). In the Orbost centre for wildlife rescue 234 Kangaroos were sighted, none euthanised and none triaged, 13 Koalas were taken to triage in Bairnsdale".

Thousands of animals died in these places.

Selective extraction of species already in dire trouble was undertaken, the Victorian Government said they would spend $2.4 million of the emergency fund of $17.5 million on this program, perhaps covering some 34 species.15 Eastern Bristlebirds had already been extracted from the bushland near Mallacoota.

At that time, the Australian Commonwealth Government said it would provide $50 million to help wildlife impacted by bushfires. What happened to this money and how effectively and fit for purpose it was, and even if it was spent at all, beyond current funding activities, is still a question we keep asking.

In the event, very few animals were rescued from public land, if they had been, the question that I hear over and over again each day is where were they all? We know about Koalas in public facilities (Zoos), and their numbers are very small.

“Over 1.5 million hectares of Country were burnt in the fires. Habitats and national parks were significantly impacted, with devastating effects for Victoria’s biodiversity”. Victorian Government.

NOTE: This carnage as described by the Victorian Government did little to slow the mass killing of Australian wildlife, enabled and encouraged by the government’s own commercial exploitation (KHP) and control permits (ATCWs).

Just one among around 100 Australian species, in the period 2009-2021, the Victorian Government issued permits to kill 12,480 Rainbow Lorikeets

So let’s think about the numbers, remember these are rough estimates. Their purpose is to give you the understanding of the relationship between these numbers that relate to public lands where most of the wildlife lived because it was their sanctuary away from the mass killings elsewhere (which has continued at pace despite the loss of wildlife in the fires).  

A modest assessment, given national estimates would be that 300 million mammals, birds and reptiles were killed in Victoria during those fires, Victoria’s share of public funds allocated in the first instance $30 million, Victoria’s share of public donations for wildlife rescue and rehabilitation (coming from around the world) $70 million. So 100 million dollars all up and from a freedom of information request following the fires total number of animals rescued from public lands in Victoria following the fires was as follows: From the data provided by the Victorian Government at the time, 350 native animals were rescued, of which 257 (74 per cent) were Koalas. Of the 342 animals euthanised 293 (86 per cent) were Kangaroos and Wallabies. 

Despite the carnage of the fires and the drastic decline in birdlife more generally, the Victorian Government called both a full Quail shooting season and a modified duck shooting season, in the weeks following these terrible events. These ‘recreational’ bird shooting seasons last for many weeks each year, are a major slaughter of birdlife (numbering in the hundreds of thousands of birds each year).

"The impact of climate change on native species is not just about whether a place has been burnt or not. The pathway is simple, climate change means heat, floods, droughts and fires, significantly diminished capacity for wildlife to breed, no water means no breeding waterbirds and drought means even lower reproduction rates for Macropod species. Other weather events also stop reproduction. The recent and catastrophic fires, I have travelled extensively through the fire grounds in NSW and Victoria, have added a new dimension to the difficulty for species to survive into the future". Peter Hylands 2020

Victorian Government messaging

To get an understanding of the culture of state government environment departments here are extracts from the Victorian Government’s wildlife fire response plan. There had been controversy over the plans to kill pouch / milk dependant young even if the animals are uninjured. Milk dependant young can be quite large and up to around 18 months old. Despite claims from the government that these plans were no longer current (some staff still claiming they were) this killing appears to have occurred by default. To date there is little evidence of the rescue of young animals across the species the government claim to be overabundant (that includes Koalas which they continue to kill in secretive and outsourced culls).

“The most common species that may be seen in the Victorian fire context are Koalas, Brushtail and Ringtail Possums, Echidnas, and joeys of large Kangaroo species (Eastern and Western Grey Kangaroos). Small Macropods, adult Wombats and Reptiles are less frequently seen. Conservation and population status of affected wildlife needs to be understood as these may also impact decision making about triage. For example, an over abundant population with established health issues may require a closer consideration for euthanasia of compromised animals over treatment”. 
“All euthanised animals must be thoroughly examined for pouch young or the immediate area should be searched for young at foot (where applicable) after euthanasia. Where young are found, a decision must then be made on the appropriate course of action depending on the age of the young (either euthanised or transferred to an appropriately qualified carer for rehabilitation)”.
“Rehabilitation of orphaned milk-dependent pouch young of common species such as Macropods and Koalas is not supported as these animals require significant long term care and cannot be successfully returned to the wild”.

Given the secretive nature of much of this conduct the following statement is particularly annoying and is suggestive of managing the message and not providing accurate information. Remember the team from the Nature Knowledge Channel have been blocked from attending this government’s press conferences and releases.  

“The public and the media should receive accurate and timely information in order to maintain good public relations and prevent people from attempting to obtain the information from other sources”.

The problem now is that absolutely nothing has changed and not a single lesson from all this has made its way into changes of policy. The propaganda of overabundant species continues, as do the increasingly nonsensical government population estimates for the Australian species it is trying to destroy.

Spring delivers babies