• Venessa Merrin

Responding to Australia’s Bushfire Emergency

In the aftermath of the extensive bushfires that have swept across south-eastern Australia, AWC is responding by helping with recovery efforts on the ground.

AWC Feral Animal Control Officer, Murray Schofield, is currently removing feral predators from Kangaroo Island Dunnart habitat, as we install emergency fencing to create a vital refuge for the critically endangered mammal.

Kangaroo Island Dunnart survivors have been detected on camera traps after the fires.

Kangaroo Island Dunnart survivors have been detected on camera traps after the fires.

South Australia’s Kangaroo Island is home to a unique species of Dunnart (a small carnivorous marsupial related to quolls and Antechinus). Even before the bushfires the Kangaroo Island Dunnart was rare: it had only been recorded at eight sites in the past two decades, and fewer than 500 individuals remained.

The entire known range of the species was affected by large bushfires in the first few weeks of January, resulting in a catastrophic loss of habitat.

Following the fire, AWC provided camera traps and survey equipment to assess the damage to the Dunnart population. Encouragingly, some Dunnarts survived the blaze and AWC is now working with Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife and the Doube family to protect the surviving animals which may now hold the tragic title of being the most endangered mammals in the country.

Time is of the essence. With little shelter to hide, feral cats pose an immediate threat to the remaining Dunnarts, so AWC’s expert cat trapper, Murray Schofield, is on the ground leading efforts to control feral predators in the fire-affected area.

The Australian Army has provided crucial support by clearing a 1.7 kilometre easement in record time so we can construct a feral-proof fence and secure 13.8 hectares of remnant habitat where camera traps have confirmed Dunnarts are still present.

The Australian Army, together with AWC, Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife and the Doube family clearing the fenceline to create a cat-free refuge. | © Brad Leue/AWC

The Australian Army, together with AWC, Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife and the Doube family clearing the fenceline to create a cat-free refuge. | © Brad Leue/AWC

Once the population is secured, work will commence on a larger fenced area (at least 370 hectares) to provide a long-term safe haven for this critically endangered mammal. This will also offer protection to other threatened wildlife including Southern Brown Bandicoots, Southern Emu Wrens and Kangaroo Island Echidnas.

Construction will begin this week on a 1.7 kilometre feral predator-proof fence around the 13.8 hectare critical refuge site. | © Brad Leue/AWC

Other projects

As well as Kangaroo Island, we are also deploying teams to fire-affected sites in NSW. In the coming weeks, we will be conducting targeted surveys, assessing damage to habitat, providing strategic advice and carrying out urgent interventions to protect surviving populations of threatened species.

AWC is working with private conservation group South Endeavour Trust to send a team of ecologists to fire affected areas in northern NSW. Two reserves were heavily impacted by fire: Bezzant’s Lease, near Glen Innes; and Kewilpa, near Casino. The AWC team will conduct targeted surveys at these reserves which lie within the range of several threatened species, including the Spotted-tailed Quoll, Giant Barred Frog and Powerful Owl.

This week, an AWC reconnaissance team of ecologists is visiting Wollombi Valley to assess the impact of bushfires and provide advice to the local Landcare group.

AWC is also offering assistance in post-fire monitoring of known Regent Honeyeater habitat. Before the fires, the population of this critically endangered species was estimated to be fewer than 400 individuals – the immediate priority is to assess the damage to important nesting sites, in collaboration with researchers from Birdlife Australia, the Australian National University, and the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

We are grateful to all of the organisations and landowners we are working with for the opportunity to collaborate with them for the benefit of Australia’s wildlife.

AWC is actively investigating opportunities to support other bushfire recovery projects, in keeping with our mission to provide effective conservation to all Australian animal species and their habitats. Please stay tuned for more updates in the coming weeks.

The full extent of the damage to Australia’s wildlife will become clearer in the weeks and months to come, but the bushfires have highlighted the need for urgent intervention in order to secure the future of Australia’s threatened wildlife across the entire continent.

Your support for this work is more important than ever.

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