After burning for months and ravaging nearly 18 million acres of land, people across the world are finally seeing the devastating effects of widespread fires in Australia. The impacts on people, property, nature, and wildlife are heartbreaking as seen through the images of burnt homes, forests, and injured and dead animals, particularly the koalas and kangaroos that are the very symbol of Australia.
In an attempt to save surviving wildlife, the government of New South Wales, through the Ministry of Energy and Environment, launched Operation Rock Wallaby.
The Australian state of New South Wales, where Sydney and Canberra are located, declared a state of emergency since the fires show minimal signs of slowing down. Worsening weather conditions may result in even greater risks from fires. Post-fire wildlife recovery efforts, however, are underway.
Operation Rock Wallaby aims to ensure that brush-tailed rock-wallabies that survived the Australian bushfires are fed, starting with over 4,000 pounds (2,100 kilograms) of sweet potatoes and carrots dropped from helicopters in 11 different brush-tailed rock-wallaby colonies.
According to Australia’s Department of Environment and Energy website, brush-tailed rock-wallabies are marsupials — like kangaroos — who live on rocky escarpments, granite outcrops and cliffs. Fifteen species have been recorded in Australia, though most have disappeared and are now considered threatened. Brush-tailed rock-wallabies are also considered endangered in New South Wales.
Matt Kean, Minister of Energy and Environment, stated, “This is the most widespread food drop we have ever done for brush-tailed rock-wallabies.”
He added, “The provision of supplementary food is one of the key strategies we are deploying to promote the survival and recovery of endangered species like the brush-tailed rock-wallaby. Initial fire assessments indicate the habitat of several important brush-tailed rock-wallaby populations was burnt in the recent bushfires. The wallabies typically survive the fire itself, but are then left stranded with limited natural food as the fire takes out the vegetation around their rocky habitat.”
Fortunately, Operation Rock Wallaby and other wildlife recovery efforts by the energy and environment ministry and other conservation organizations, provide some relief to the exhausted animals. The supplementary food supplies will be provided for the wallabies and other endangered species while natural food resources and water replenish in the areas remain affected.
Kean said, “The wallabies were already under stress from the ongoing drought, making survival challenging for the wallabies without assistance. When we can, we are also setting up cameras to monitor the uptake of the food and the number and variety of animals there.”
The energy and environment ministry will continue to make food drops until original habitats regain enough moisture and nutrients to sustain life. These will be complemented by feral predator control to ensure the recovery of the species.
And the fires are still burning. Blazes across large areas of Australia began in September 2019, before the start of the official fire season. At least 30 people have died. Thousands of homes have been destroyed.
Ecologists estimate that millions of animals have perished in the fires, although these numbers only cover birds, reptiles, and mammals. Including bats, insects, frogs, and other wildlife, the number of total animals affected may be higher than a billion.
Recovery efforts to save animals continue across fire-ravaged areas in Australia. These include the biodiverse Kangaroo Island off the South Australian coast, where fires have killed tens of thousands of koalas and severely impacted several other unique species. State governments are coordinating with various organizations to support firefighters and re-establish habitats for wildlife.
Donations for firefighters, residents, and wildlife organizations are badly needed, and can be directed to the Australia Zoo run by the Irwin family, WIRES, World Wildlife Fund Australia, Port Macquarie Koala Hospital’s GoFundMe, RSPCA New South Wales, Australian Red Cross, Salvation Army Australia, New South Wales Rural Fire Service, and Rural Fire Brigades Association, among others.