Frequently asked questions: HSI response to Australia bushfires

Humane Society International


Australia fires animal rescue
Jo-Anne Robinson/AP Images for HSI

Q. I’ve seen reports regarding rainfall in Australia – does that mean that wildlife is in the clear?
A. Kangaroo Island, the focus of our response, hasn’t experienced significant rainfall like some other areas of Australia.

Unfortunately, minor amounts of rainfall are inadequate to begin the process of regenerating lost forest habitat and animals continue to be heavily impacted by the fires.

Q. How long will animals rescued by HSI be held in captivity?
A. Habitat regeneration times will vary across the continent, depending on the species of trees and local environmental conditions. On Kangaroo Island, we are hopeful that stands of eucalyptus trees will be able to regenerate in a matter of months, if there is sufficient rainfall. Reintroducing koalas into regrown eucalyptus forests – in a manner that gives due consideration to the species’ territorial nature and social structure – is absolutely our goal. HSI/Australia is working hard to support its Wildlife Land Trust sanctuary members and wildlife carers across Australia to build rehabilitation facilities to increase their capacity for the overwhelming numbers of animals in care, and to keep them close to where they were found for eventual release. During their time in care, it will be important to avoid unnecessary handling of the koalas, but we are hopeful that they will integrate back into the wild very well.

Q. Is bottle feeding bad for koalas?
HSI’s Disaster Response Team is made up of trained professionals with experience handling injured, dehydrated and starving animals after natural and man-made disasters. We also work closely with available local vets when possible. It is true that pouring water into an animal’s mouth can create a risk that the animal inhales instead of swallows the water, which can cause a serious and sometimes fatal condition called aspiration pneumonia. That is why the HSI Disaster Response Team provided water to rescued animals in a bowl from which they could lap, or in small and slow quantities from a syringe so that their swallowing reflex would be stimulated. Unlike adult koalas, a baby koala or joey would naturally suckle milk from its mom, and so a teated bottle held at the appropriate angle (as demonstrated in HSI’s Facebook LIVE video) most naturally replicates that and presents no welfare danger to the joey.

Q. Can I volunteer to go to Australia and help with animal rescue?
A. Animal rescue organizations on the ground are not currently accepting overseas volunteers. Australia itself has a large pool of volunteers to pull from. The recovery of the wildfires will be long term and once the initial response dies down, groups may be looking for experienced volunteers. Experience in disaster response and animal care is essential, as well-intentioned but inexperienced animal responders can do more harm than good (such as by over-watering dehydrated koala bears). We also strongly discourage people from self-deployinig. Self-deploying to fire zones creates an unsafe situation for both people and animals. We know people are very moved by the fires and want to help, but sometimes the best help we can give is to support the organizations with the expertise to respond.

Q. Can I send supplies to help with animal rescue?
A. At this time, HSI and other rescue organizations are asking that people not send non-monetary donations as they do not have the bandwidth to sort through them. Unless you see a specific wish list of items on an organization’s website, please hold off from sending donations other than funds.

Q. Why should I donate to HSI instead of other organizations involved in Australia fire relief?
A. HSI has had a permanent presence in Australia since 1994 and will continue to work there on the ground long into the future. This has allowed us to establish a robust network of relationships with wildlife sanctuaries and governmental and nongovernmental partners. This network is critical to a successful animal search and rescue mission in the face of such a calamitous event. Established wildlife rehabilitation facilities specifically requested that HSI conduct a search and rescue mission to find any animal survivors and bring them to the sanctuaries for treatment. HSI is committed to using the funds raised to cover grants to local organizations involved in the short, medium, and long-term animal rescue response a disaster of this scale will require, as well as all of the costs of our deployment to Australia. Only in the event that we receive more funds than can be spent to help animals impacted by the Australian fires will the funds be used to provide animal care in other disaster zones or for the rescue of animals where it is most needed.

Q. What percent of donations made to hsi.org/aid will go to animal rescue?
A. 100% of all donations made to Humane Society International’s Animal Rescue Fund will be used for direct care of animals and funding the deployment our team of expert disaster and rescue responders. The impacts of this disaster will be long felt by the wildlife and their carers who tend to the injured, orphaned and displaced animals round-the-clock. HSI is committed to using the funds raised to cover grants to local organizations involved in the short, medium, and long-term animal rescue response a disaster of this scale will require as well as all of the costs of our deployment to Australia. Only in the event that we receive more funds than can be spent to help animals impacted by the Australian fires will the funds be used to provide animal care in other disaster zones or for the rescue of animals where it is most needed. Humane Society International has a Gold Seal of Transparency from GuideStar and is approved by the Better Business Bureau for all 20 standards for charity accountability.

Q. What is HSI doing to combat the root causes of the climate change crisis?
A. HSI/Australia has long engaged in policy advocacy to protect animals, including bolstering the country’s biodiversity and environmental laws. HSI/Australia is working both within Australia and through international treaty bodies to promote the adoption of laws that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and establish best practices for adapting to a changing climate. HSI/Australia has been particularly focused on creating a mechanism to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) as part of an international emissions trading scheme and urging domestic protection of Australian wildlife habitat as a means of providing resilience against climate change. For more information, visit: https://hsi.org.au/campaign/category/law-and-policy-general.

Q. Why didn’t HSI deploy to Australia earlier?
A. We have been watching the situation in Australia ever since the fires started earlier in the fall. For the safety of our staff, firefighters, and members of the public, we do not deploy to active fire zones that are under evacuation order or where our presence could make a dangerous situation worse. Further, unlike many of the countries where we work, Australia has an existing infrastructure capable of helping animals (and people) in distress during times of disaster. We never enter a country during a disaster unless we are invited by the government or partner groups on-the-ground requesting our aid. As soon as our partners in Australia reached out to us seeking help, we immediately responded by sending staff to Kangaroo Island to lead a search and rescue mission. We are in regular contact with our partners in Australia and will evaluate any additional requests to send staff, supplies, or other resources to assist in the short, medium, and long term.

Q. Are animals that survived the Australian bushfires being euthanized?
A. On Kangaroo Island, the extent of destruction to wildlife habitat is severe, but responders have been searching for any animal survivors. Our priority is to keep wildlife in the wild, but even unharmed wildlife may need to be taken to sanctuaries if they do not have access to food or water due to fire damage. Animals who are injured are taken to rehabilitation facilities for veterinary treatment, with the goal of re-release back into the wild after recovery. Only if animals are severely injured, suffering, and not able to be returned to health would they be humanely euthanized.

Q: What is your response to the report that the Australian government is going to kill 10,000 camels who are in search of water?
A: We understand that many people are shocked by the recent media coverage of camel culling in South Australia. Humane Society International and our partner organization, HSI/Australia, advocate strongly for humane animal management practices across all species. Aerial culling is not a sustainable solution and more humane methods must be found. HSI and HSI/Australia encourage state and territory governments in Australia to urgently invest in humane alternatives such as contraception which has been shown to work well for other species.

Q: What happened to the kangaroo pictured in your first Facebook post?
A: The picture is of a young eastern grey kangaroo named Bridgette who is safe at Dimmocks Retreat Wildlife Rehabilitation & Rescue in Bundanoon, New South Wales, a member of HSI/Australia’s Wildlife Land Trust. As devastating fires ripped through the town of Bundanoon last Saturday, heroic volunteer firefighters managed to save the sanctuary’s homestead but over a third of the property’s forest and the adjoining national park was destroyed. After the fire had passed through, wildlife carers Justine and Greg found Bridgette and several other kangaroos and wombats safe and miraculously unharmed at the sanctuary.  Since they have very little natural food left, Justine and Greg will need to provide hay, pellets and fresh water until the bushland begins to regenerate. You can keep up-to-date with Dimmocks Retreat here: https://www.facebook.com/DimmocksRetreat/

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