Our environment is still recovering from the devastating impact of the 2020 summer bushfires. As a part of WWF-Australia’s mission to Regenerate Australia, we partnered with Native Animal Rescue in Perth to help rescue and rehabilitate wildlife impacted by the bushfires. We met up with Native Animal Rescue CEO Kelli Ellemor to see how the rescue is fairing a year on, and for an update on a special koala joey, Clover.
How did the 2020 bushfires impact you and the team at Native Animal Rescue?
The bushfires in 2020 were truly frightening. We’ve seen natural disasters before, but that summer was on a scale unlike any other. The fires burned for weeks on end and destroyed thousands of acres of land, devastating local wildlife and habitat with it.
Stepping foot into the affected fire zone was daunting, we didn’t know what to expect. It was extremely hot and you could still see trees smouldering three weeks after the blaze. We gathered all the wildlife we could find to try and save them. Some of them had burnt their ears, faces, and feet burnt to the bone. It was heartbreaking, especially when you saw tracks and trail-drag of an animal that needed help but you couldn’t find them. We were still coming across injured wildlife two months after the fires went out.
While the fires were still burning we had to bring the animals inside from their enclosure to avoid all the ash in the air. We set up sprinklers and ice-packs to help keep them cool, but the months after the fires were very challenging.
Has the wildlife and habitat around Perth recovered from the 2020 fires?
It’s been a long and slow process, but our local area is on the road to recovery. When the fires swept through Western Australia they decimated thousands of acres of native habitat with them. We set up cameras to monitor the surroundings and track the rate of habitat regrowth. Waiting for the environment to recover was so
important as we couldn’t release any animals until we were sure there was enough moisture, food and shelter out there for them to survive.
The local community really banded together during and after the fires. People still bring us buckets of water and food for the animals, and we often get calls from people when they’ve spotted injured wildlife. It was inspiring to see that through the fires and the COVID-19 pandemic that followed, the community is still so passionate about helping our wildlife recover.
We even had bushfires again this summer, but it was very different to 2020. These fires were hot and fast, whereas last year was long and drawn out. Nonetheless, thanks to the support of our partners and the local community, there is balance in the local habitat biodiversity and all the animals who needed care from the bushfires in 2020 have now been released.
I am pleased to say Clover made a full recovery. When we found her last March in Yanchep National Park, she had burns all over her paws from trying to escape the fires. She was such a sweet and quiet joey, it was hard to see her so injured. Her recovery was a slow process. We had to change her bandages and dressings twice a week allwhile trying to keep her off her feet. You can imagine that being difficult for a young kangaroo to do!
Kangaroo joeys need to be in a calm environment to recover, so she went into a home with a carer from Wildlife Care WA along with several other orphaned joeys. They’d already been through the stress of the fire, losing their mum and getting injured, so they really needed a loving environment to recover in.
Eventually, Clover’s wounds healed and she was able to hop around again. She slowly gained more independence and after a good 12 months of rehabilitation and observation, she was ready to be released. She was set free along with her orphaned siblings and now they’re out there living the life they were always meant to.
How does it feel to say goodbye to animals you’ve looked after for so long?
It’s a bittersweet moment when they’re released back into the wild. After a year of looking after these animals and helping them heal, you really come to care about them. Saying goodbye can be sad, but it’s also very rewarding. These animals stay in your heart forever but they’re now off doing what they were born to do and that’s the ultimate goal.
We still do weekly monitoring and food drops to help give them the best chance of survival. It’s reassuring to see so many species recovering well and it makes all the hardship of the last year so worth the effort.
WWF-Australia partnered with Native Animal Rescue as a part of our mission to Regenerate Australia. Our wildlife and environment is still recovering from the 2020 bushfires and the threat of deforestation, climate change and human impact continue to threaten our native species. Your support can help us halt the extinction crisis and help save the animals and environment that we love. Join us as we Regenerate Australia and change the future for our wildlife.