How to help bushfire-affected animals and wildlife

Living Well | Sue Hewitt | Posted on 06 January 2020

With millions of hectares of their habitat destroyed, here's how to help animals and wildlife affected by bushfires.

As bushfires sweep through eastern Australia, some of the most disturbing images to come out of the devastation have been of distressed wildlife – burned, frightened and marooned in the desolation.

But while our first instincts may be to rush to the aid of fire-affected fauna, wildlife experts warn that there are things you can do to help and things you shouldn’t. 

Koala with burnt ears and fur sitting in washing basket at animal hospital


Wildlife Victoria chief executive Dr Megan Davidson says it’s hard to quantify the number of animals lost in these bushfires, but says estimates “will be in the millions”. 

“You see the flames and know nothing can survive [in the bushfire] but on the periphery animals have escaped and may be burnt or injured.”

Megan says much as we may want to help these affected animals, it is important not to try to capture or handle them. Doing so may not only further injure or distress the animal, but you may also injure yourself. 

Instead she recommends getting help from a trained and vaccinated wildlife specialist such as through Wildlife Victoria.

People can also use the snapsendsolve app which provides GPS coordinates to report injured wildlife to authorities. 

Small animals may be able to be carried in a box or pet container to a vet but Megan warns snakes, koalas and kangaroos are too dangerous to handle, as are bats of any size because they carry diseases.

The Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning also advises not to handle wildlife and provides an online tool to find the nearest rescue organisation based on the animal species and location.

The Rescue Collective has volunteers waiting for fires to abate before carrying out wildlife rescues in Gippsland and other fire-affected areas along the east coast of Australia. 

Spokeswoman Nicole Blums says koalas are particularly vulnerable as prolonged dry weather has robbed them of a vital water source. 

“Koalas need eucalypt leaves with a 40 per cent moisture content [to hydrate] but most trees have dropped to 20 per cent,” she says. “The trees may look okay but they’re not and need to be watered [to provide leaves that are moist enough for koalas].”

So what can you do to help fire-affected animals? 

Wildlife Victoria suggests the most straightforward help you can give is to provide water, and recommends the following:  

  • Leave a container of water on the ground with sticks and stones in it so that if wildlife fall in they can get out. This will save the smallest insect to the largest mammal.
  • Don’t pour water down a koala’s throat, as it can aspirate causing water to go into its lungs. 
  • Animals in search of water can fall into swimming pools, so ensure there are things in place, such as flotation devices, that animals can use to climb out.
  • Share the fruit on your trees and don’t use netting because it acts as a wildlife trap. 
  • If you see wildlife in your garden keep people and pets away to allow animals to rest.
  • If you leave food out for birds never use bread. Visit birdlife.org.au to research their diet. 

For more information on how to help bushfire-affected animals and wildlife, visit rspcavic.org.

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