The devastating bushfire crisis that has swept across Australia has had a huge impact on wildlife. Currumbin Wildlife Hospital has seen a 20 per cent increase in animals being admitted; many have severe burns and are suffering dehydration.
The devastating bushfires in Australia are a result of the conditions caused by extended drought and extremely dry, hot weather. Almost the entire eastern side of Australia has seen a far bigger impact on the Australian native wildlife than ever imagined. The areas where the bushfires have burnt are devastating, but in the areas where there have been no bushfires, there is still drought and wildlife has suffered tremendously.
The number of animals admitted to Currumbin Wildlife Hospital during this time has increased 20 per cent, and although there have been a number of animals with direct burns from the bushfires, there have been many more coming in due to drought and hot conditions. These animals are severely dehydrated and are not coping with the conditions.
Dr Michael Pyne, senior vet and general manager of Currumbin Wildlife Hospital, tells ORM that in the 20 years of working at the wildlife hospital, he has never seen anything like this.
“Australian native animals are designed for drought; they are meant to be able to cope with it,” he says.
“To have a drought and have conditions where Australian native wildlife can’t cope is going to a whole new place where they’re struggling, so there is a broader impact on wildlife than just bushfires themselves.
“Since the bushfires, we’ve been fortunate to have some rain in the past month, which has certainly made a difference. The animals coming in from dehydration have almost dropped to zero, but having said that, if the rain stopped tomorrow, those drought conditions could return very quickly, so there needs to be more rain to get back to a normal balance.”
Dr Pyne is keen to stress the positive news emerging from this crisis.
“The positive news about Australian bushland is its capacity to regenerate after bushfire is good,” he says.
“Where there are long-term problems is where the rainforests have been burnt. Rainforests aren’t meant to burn — they’re not designed to come back after fire whereas a lot of Australian forests are designed to come back, and certainly these areas are coming back now and the grasses are returning. The wildlife such as wallabies are not relying on their food being supplied to them; they’ve gone and dispersed and are looking after themselves now.”
So what is Dr Pyne’s concern now?
“The concern now is what the future holds,” he tells us.
“This could be a one-in-100-year drought and it’s happened now and everything is slowly returning to normal and the normal conditions mean our wildlife will bounce back. Areas of NSW and Victoria will take a long time to come back, so there were certainly worries and concerns that species could have been wiped out entirely in the bushfires.
“If what we saw this year is the new normal and these extreme weather patterns happen every third or fourth year, then our wildlife is in big trouble, because next time it may not be able to bounce back again, and that’s where the concern lies.”
One positive outcome from recent bushfires is that now Australian wildlife is on the worldwide stage, especially the plight of the koalas.
Dr Pyne reminds us that chlamydial disease is every bit as severe now as it was before the drought and it’s a huge threatening process affecting our native koalas, particularly in southeast Queensland and northern NSW areas where chlamydial disease is at its worst and causing huge problems.
More than half of the koalas Currumbin Wildlife Hospital admits are sick from chlamydia, and many of the others that come in for other reasons have subclinical chlamydia, so they’re getting sick from it.
While the situation seems dire, there is still hope for koalas. Recent times have reinforced why wildlife hospitals are so important, not only for the treatment of animals, but also for vital research, data collection, and getting into the space of prevention when faced with new diseases and new conditions that put stress on wildlife.
“To help support the Currumbin Wildlife Hospital, you can donate at www.currumbinwildlifehospital.org.au”
2019 was the busiest year on record at Currumbin Wildlife Hospital.
The total admissions for 2019 were 12,198 compared to 11,082 the previous year.
This hospital is one of the busiest wildlife hospitals in the world, and it’s located on the grounds of Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary. The mission remains the same: to treat, rehabilitate, and release native wildlife.
Currumbin Wildlife Hospital was fortunate to receive a second wildlife ambulance in 2019 — and it was certainly needed! The ambulances rescued more than 1500 animals and travelled more than 70,000km!
Koala admissions have increased to almost 600 in 2019, up from 27 in 2008.
Currumbin Wildlife Hospital has an amazing team of volunteers at the wildlife hospital, and in 2019, more than 24,000 volunteer hours were worked over 5076 shifts.
The hospital received more than 24,000 phone calls and spent 928 hours on the phone assisting members of the public, veterinary practices, and wildlife carers with their wildlife enquiries.
There were nearly 500 additional admissions during the recent bushfires — the admission of wildlife will continue to increase over the next six to 12 months as animals return to their devastated homes and seek food and limited shelter and try to remain healthy as they recover.