January 16 (UPI) – Parts of Australia are finally getting much-needed rain so crews can put out a series of forest fires that have charred millions of acres and killed more than two dozen people – plus more than a billion animals.
Officials say at least 28 people have died since the fires started last September, and rescue workers are trying to reduce the number of casualties for humans and animals. For example, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) has stationed a rescue operation on Kangaroo Island, a 1,700 square mile island off the coast of South Australia. Kangaroo Island is also home to endangered bird and penguin species.
The government agency Primary Industries and Regions SA supports the salvage activities and helps assess animals. PIRSA has assisted the Australian Defense Force in transporting hay to local farmers.
“Animal health personnel will continue to work with local veterinary clinics to immediately assess and advise producers and keepers,” said Professor Mehdi Doroudi, Agriculture and Animal Services. “This includes the inspection and assessment of injured animals and their welfare, the treatment of surviving animals and the human destruction to alleviate the suffering.”
The RSPCA said it started deploying personnel to the island last month after the forest fires – or bush fires, as they are called in Australia – actually started harming wildlife and their habitats.
“Vets who have survived these bushfires will need extensive veterinary care for many months, and measures will be required to help animals survive the massive loss of habitat and food sources,” said Andrea Lewis, chief inspector at RSPCA South Australia. “These tragedies have touched hearts nationally and internationally.”
Before the fires, Kangaroo Island was home to around 25,000 koalas and tens of thousands of farm animals. Last weekend, more than 32,000 of the farm animals died there as a result of a fire – including 32,000 sheep, 500 cattle, 65 alpacas and some horses.
Army troops would have helped the RSPCA, including a vehicle that could transport four injured koalas to the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park. The park, which survived a major fire hazard last week, has become the main triage center.
The RSPCA team used a burned-out nature reserve on the island as a makeshift triage center and a shed as an animal treatment center.
“We set up a table, a drop, and everything we needed to examine and calm animals and examine their wounds,” said veterinarian Dr. Gale Kothari from RSPCA South Australia. “Many of them had burns on all four feet, so we provided pain relief and connected them.”
In the absence of suitable equipment for veterinary clinics, Kothari said the crews were forced to improvise and use the items available on Kangaroo Island.
“Every koala that is anesthetized is given subcutaneous fluids from a drip. In the absence of a drip pump or a drip stand, we used a ladder and managed to get a rope over one of the bars on the roof of the shed. We got that tied up our dropper bag, which worked very well. “
RSPCA employee Stuart Timmins and his brother Craig, a volunteer, visit fire-scarred areas on the island with a transporter of animal care products.
“We are like a travel pet store,” said Stuart Timmins. “Except for everything we have on board, it is free for the animal owners who are affected by these bush fires.”
Lewis said the animal rescue team would stay on the island as long as needed to help.
“The valuable habitat that was destroyed is incomprehensible,” she said. “It will be a long road to recovery for the community on Kangaroo Island, and like many other groups, RSPCA SA is committed to doing everything for those affected.”
The government has started airborne food dumps to save vulnerable wallabies in New South Wales, where more than 12 million acres have been decimated by fire so far.