Millions of animals and billions of reptiles and insects were killed in the tragic 2019-20 ‘black summer’ bushfires, and a new partnership aims to teach firefighters what to do if they see injured animals.
New online training and a detailed booklet to help is being rolled out to the Rural Fire Service and Fire and Rescue NSW, as well as National Parks and Wildlife Service and Forestry Corporation Workers in the state to ensure first responses know what to do if they have the chance to safely help animals.
The scheme was developed by National Parks and Wildlife Service in partnership with the Taronga Conservation Society
Taronga Zoo senior vet Dr Larry Vogelnest, who was out in the field in Victoria during the bushfires and also treated animals brought to Taronga, said helping wildlife could be “very challenging”.
“It’s to give them some tools to best deal with those situations where they encounter wildlife that have been impacted by fires,” he said.
Tips include how to assess animals, do basic first aid, and get them to safety and veterinary help.
Dr Vogelnest said because fire grounds are so dangerous it can be hard for expert vets or wildlife rescuers to get in until it’s too late.
“This is why having the firefighters trained and equipped more appropriately, they are going to be the first people that see these animals,” he said.
Sadly, Dr Vogelnest said he didn’t actually treat that many animals when he was deployed to help during the fires in northern Victoria in 2020.
“Most of the wildlife would have either died or dispersed,” he said.
He also personally saw the “horrendous” sight of “hundreds and hundreds” of dead birds, likely killed by exhaustion or smoke, while at his home on the NSW Central Coast that summer.
“It was one of the most confronting things I ever saw,” he said.
Sadly, the koala later died.
A spokeswoman for the NSW Rural Fire service said it is working closely to finalise and roll out the training.
Environment Minister Matt Kean said the training will help improve survival rates for injured wildlife.
“This training will ensure our frontline heroes have the tools to assess and report injured wildlife, as well as apply basic first aid and transfer injured animals off the fireground to vets and our army of volunteer wildlife rehabilitators, if safe to do so,” he said.
The training plan came out of the NSW Bushfire Inquiry and is part of the government’s $1 million Environmental Trust-funded Bushfire for Wildlife rehabilitators program.
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“An estimated three billion native animals were impacted across Australia during the black summer bushfires, with images of the decimation etched in our minds forever,” a NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service spokeswoman said.
“Firefighters are often the first to come across injured animals in the fireground.
“Animals may have burns, be overcome and disorientated by smoke or injured trying to run from the fire.
“Knowing that firefighters often see these animals first and that rapid response is essential, the NSW Bushfire Inquiry recommended we provide basic wildlife first response training to firefighters.”