but “not the
rangers, veterinarians and volunteers from both
WIRES and Sydney Metropolitan wildlife services
braced themselves in vain for an onslaught of
injured fauna in the wake of the New South Wales
bushfires. Major fires burned in the Hawkesbury
region, the Blue Mountains National Park,
Wollondilly, Shoalhaven, Illawarra,
Park, the Royal
Park and Heathcote Reserve. The mere handful of
animals rescued dashed the hopes of many, with
WIRES taking in only 200 casualties during the
fires – from Christmas Day until the crisis was
officially declared over on January 14. At the
time of going to press, 30 fires continue to
burn in NSW.
Please click on thumbnails to enlarge
In good hands: this rescued Pygmy Possum
was found in Helensburgh, in Sydney’s
south, after the fires.
After the 1994
bushfires, from which many National Parks were
still recovering, it was feared that the outlook
for native fauna was bleak. Apart from fire
waves, fauna had to contend with competition
from livestock as many fences were destroyed
during the fires, as well as competition from
“We don’t know
how animal life will cope with repeated fires,”
said Debbie Andrew, a Project Officer for
National Parks and Wildlife Services. The risk
of a high fire frequency is that seed stock in
natural habitats can be depleted, causing a
change in plant species to an area.
In spite of the
destruction of habitat and potential devastation
of populations, National Parks and Wildlife
Services are not as alarmed as initial media
reports suggested, as the parks have already
begun to regenerate. Andrew was involved in a
fauna survey conducted two years after the 1994
bushfire crisis. “After ’94 we were seeing some
good recovery,” she said, adding that most
recorded species of the Royal
Park had been found after the fires, and those
that had not “were species that are difficult to
bushfires, small mammal fauna tend to recover
well, whereas possum fauna take a bit longer.
The canopy tends to be very badly affected. We
had a population of Greater Gliders but none
have been found since the fires,” she said.
admits that we are not in a position to fully
understand the impact of the recent fires yet.
“Australian fauna has evolved with fire for
thousands of years,” she says. “The question is;
are we changing the frequency of those fires?
It’s amazing that animals live through it at
all. That’s the mystery we’re working out.”
A Ringtail Possum, found at the side of a
road, also in Helensburgh region.
Photos courtesy of WIRES.
Dr Rob Close, a
lecturer in biology at the University of
is involved in a study of a population of over
60 koalas in the Campbelltown area in western
Sydney. He initially expected devastation, but
found that even animals in badly burned areas
survived the blaze. “They’re not in very good
shape, but that is because of a lack of
available food, rather than a direct effect of
the fires,” said Dr Close. In addition to tagged
study animals, Dr Close has sited several
untagged animals that have moved into the area
after the fires.
“We had one
animal in a very badly burned area,” he said.
“To our surprise, she and her very large cub
survived.” In fact she was found in the single
tree with green upper leaves in the area, making
the koala research team consider the possibility
that the selected home ranges of females
incorporate less fire prone areas.
endangered populations are the main concern
after these fires. Koala populations in the Blue
Mountains were “just beginning to build up
again”, said Dr Close, but would have suffered
Park and the Avon Dam area are also very badly
affected, though we just don’t know if animals
have survived by taking shelter in gorges and
wet valleys,” said Dr Close.
and Wildlife have come under fire over recent
plans to cull the feral deer population in the
Park in the wake of the fires, in order to
reduce competition between native and introduced
fauna over surviving food sources. The park’s
Rusa deer population, introduced from Indonesia
over 100 years ago, has grown to almost 3,000.
Director-General of National Parks and Wildlife
Services, Mr. Brian Gilligan, called for
submissions about the proposed deer control
program earlier this year. “We have an
obligation to the native animals that are going
to be struggling for food to do something about
the competition from the deer,” Mr. Gilligan
told The Sydney Morning Herald. If
approved, hundreds of feral deer will be
destroyed by ground shooters in the park.
Submissions closed on January 31.
This article is
reprinted from the February Issue of “The
Veterinarian” and is done so with their kind
permission and that of the author.