Today, 26th January, is Australia Day. Recently, the world has watched Australia being ravaged by the worst wild fires seen in decades – it has been truly shocking to see the images of the devastation caused by the wild fires to the landscape, people, homes and wildlife.
The fire season in Australia began in late July and has to-date cost the lives of 29 people and an estimated half a billion wild animals have died in the Australian bush fires.
Since September, at least 27 million acres of landhave burned, decimating masses of wildlife habitats and some 2,500 houses have been destroyed.
The severity of these fires and their unusually long duration has caused shock waves across the globe, igniting a much needed conversation about climate change and shedding light on the country’s affected weather conditions.
Sadly, the continued global mainstream media coverage of these wild fires has fizzled out much faster than the flames themselves.
A glimmer of hope for Australia
In amongst the social media stream of harrowing images of burned kangaroos and heartbreaking stories of koala’s having ‘drowned’ at the hands of well-meaning helpers offering bottled water; I spotted a glimmer of hope.
Last week, an Associated Press story reported that “Firefighters winched from helicopters to reach the cluster of fewer than 200 Wollemi Pines in a remote gorge in the Blue Mountains a week before a massive wildfire bore down… the firefighters set up an irrigation system to keep the so-called dinosaur trees moist, and pumped water daily from the gorge as the blaze that had burned out of control for two months edged closer.”
Saving these rare trees represents an important shift in the coverage of this disaster. Hope, rather than despair and a precedence on the ecology, as well as the individual.
My own experience of conservation work in Australia
Back in 2011-2012, I spent 14 months living, working and studying in Australia. I have some incredible memories from my early 20s, where — between studying Journalism and Web Publishing at Curtin University working as a barista and backpacking up and down Western Australia, the East Coast and the centre to South Australia — I made time to join Conservation Volunteers Australia.
It was also during this year in Australia that I began this very blog, as part of my Web Publishing module during my studies in Perth.
I volunteered on environmental projects in Western Australia, Queensland and Victoria which involved lots of tree planting; including to restore the forests after the Queensland floods; clearing the landscape and rivers of pollution (we didn’t really call it ‘plastic waste’ then) and population monitoring in the form of the ‘Great Cocky Count’; which saw me helping to collect the state wide data on black cockatoos in WA.
I also visited at the Steve Irwin’s wildlife hospital when I visited Queensland back in 2011 and witnessed a baby joey recovering from an operation, a koala being treated for a contagious disease and a variety of animals injured in roadside incidents.
Recently Bindi Irwin shared on Instagram that their Wildlife Hospital is busier than ever, having officially treated over 90,000 patients affected by the Australian bush fires
The Guardian explained: ‘Ecologists fear the bushfires represent the catastrophic beginning of a bleak future for the country’s native flora and fauna.
“It feels like we have hit a turning point that we predicted was coming as a consequence of climate change,” Professor Sarah Legge said. “We are now in uncharted territory.”
Recovering from the fires
“Bushfires don’t just burn animals to death but create starvation events,” Professor Sarah Legge added, “Birds lose their breeding trees and the fruits and invertebrates they feed on. Ground-dwelling mammals that do survive emerge to find an open landscape with nowhere to hide, which one ecologist said became a “hunting arena” for feral cats and foxes. These fires are homogenising the landscape.”
It’s this deep concern of a homogenised landscape that makes the concerted effort to save the Wollemi Pines so important.
My heart goes out to all those who have been affected, and I hope for everyone’s safety in the days ahead (human and non-human), though that seems so futile from over here in the UK.
I lived in Australia for a while, and trust me when I say a piece of my heart is still there.
Supporting Australia this Aus Day
If you would like to show your support for Australia’s wildlife and wild landscapes, the brilliant animal-minded clothing brand ‘ivory ella’ have released limited edition Australian Wildlife Rescue tees, with 100% of profits going to Animals Australia: an organization fighting to get wildlife veterinarians to areas impacted by fires.