Meet the mobile vets caring for animals injured in the bushfires


More than one billion animals are thought to have perished in Australia's bushfires, but wildlife carers are doing all they can to help the ones who have survived.

On a rural property in the NSW South Coast town of Wandandian, a mobile vet clinic rolled in to meet its first patient of the day.

The lace monitor, also known as a tree goanna, had a broken jaw and was blind in one eye.

It's just one of the hundreds of native animals that have been taken in by local wildlife carers after bushfires tore through the region in recent weeks.

"He's in a pretty bad shape and if you didn't have a lot of trouble catching him or grabbing him ... I'd be worried whether he's already in kidney failure," veterinarian Dr Izidora Sladakovic said.

Dr Izi Sladakovic assessing an injured lace monitor.
Dr Izi Sladakovic assessing an injured lace monitor.

Along with five other vets and nurses from Sydney, she was volunteering to help treat bushfire-impacted animals in need of urgent medical care.

But with little hope of recovery, Dr Sladakovic decided to euthanise the lizard.

Several other animals, including one large eastern grey kangaroo with severe burns on its feet, were also put to sleep before the morning's end.

"We've had a number of carers bringing kangaroos to us which we've been triaging," another vet, Dr Nandita Kataria, told SBS News.

"A lot of them have smoke inhalation as well as physical burns and then [we consider the] likelihood that we could rehabilitate them back into a natural environment, and that all plays a role in making a decision as to whether we keep going with them or not."

A kangaroo with burned feet pads.
A kangaroo with burned feet pads.

During the two-day trip on Saturday and Sunday, the vets tended to snakes, flying foxes, and orphaned joeys.

And luckily for most, the diagnosis was much more positive.

Sydney Wildlife volunteer Lynleigh Greig, who co-ordinated fundraisers to build the mobile vet unit, said, "I think everyone's been feeling a bit helpless watching on television how this catastrophe has unfolded and just feeling like we want to make a difference".

With so many animals in need, she offered to bring some of the orphaned joeys and bats back to Sydney for ongoing care, before they are released back into the wild in the coming months.

The bushfire crisis has prompted many other wildlife organisations across the state to take action.

Sydney Wildlife volunteer Lynleigh Greig with an orphaned joey.
Sydney Wildlife volunteer Lynleigh Greig with an orphaned joey.

At Taronga Zoo, 12 koalas rescued from the path of fire in the Blue Mountains are now being looked after by keepers.

Taronga Conservation Society Australia CEO Cam Kerr said, "these animals have been tracked, they're genetically very valuable and we're very lucky that they came out because the fire came right through their territory".

The zoo is also caring for a number of other injured and rescued wildlife including heat-stressed bats, wallabies and echidnas.

Sydney University ecologist Mathew Crowther estimated more than one billion animals have been killed across Australia this bushfire season, including mammals, birds and reptiles.

But he said the figure does not include frogs, spiders or other small insects.

"Invertebrates are vital to our ecosystems, providing pollination, soil turnover and seed removal," he said.

"All of these things could disappear from areas and this will cause major problems on ecosystems into the future."

Volunteer vet Dr John Thirlwell assessing an injured kangaroo.
Volunteer vet Dr John Thirlwell assessing an injured kangaroo.

He is calling for a long-term recovery strategy to ensure the survival of Australia's diverse animal populations.

"We've really got to learn from what's happened ... We've got to look at the causes, climate change, and consider how do we manage our landscapes."

Taronga Zoo's Mr Kerr said he supported the call to help wildlife by focusing on full-scale bushfire crisis management.

"These fires, combined with persistent drought, have decimated already fragile animal populations. While it is too soon to know the exact scale of the impact to Australian wildlife, the number of animals believed to have perished as a result of these catastrophic conditions is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions," he said.

"After we have dealt with the imminent crisis, we will settle in for the long haul and utilise our unique skills in small population management and breed and release programs to re-establish healthy, genetically valuable animal populations of endangered and threatened species."

A number of emergency appeals are accepting donations to help care for bushfire-impacted wildlife, including Sydney Wildlife, WIRES and Taronga Zoo.

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