From fires and droughts to record-breaking floods, Australia’s communities and native creatures have felt the growing force of climate change over the last 60 years. Our wildlife heroes have been working tirelessly to combat this issue and keep populations alive, and this is how we can support them.
Words and Photography by Kate Newman
As one of only 17 megadiverse nations, 87 per cent of Australia’s mammal species, 93 per cent of reptiles, 94 per cent of frogs and 45 per cent of bird species are endemic ⏤ found solely in this country. It’s one of the most important nations on the planet for biodiversity, but as the lack of bold climate action continues, so too does the concern for our incredible native fauna.
“Although this sounds very doom and gloom, all hope is not lost.”
In the catastrophic 2020 bushfires alone, 3 billion animals were killed, injured and displaced. It became one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history. Similarly, a heatwave in 2018 killed one-third of Australian spectacled flying foxes in just a matter of two days. Mass destruction of wildlife isn’t unprecedented, it’s becoming the norm.
Climate breakdown is impacting food sources and habitats for most of Australia’s wildlife, and with every year that passes, the threat to their existence does too. But although this sounds very doom and gloom, all hope is not lost.
It’s situations like this, that reveal those who are doing their utmost to protect and conserve the beauty of Australian nature. Ecologists and research scientists are working tirelessly to develop strategies to help our precious species. Wildlife hospitals are saving animals’ lives on the daily, and on the lesser-known side — there are thousands of wildlife rescuers and carers that save and rehabilitate the injured, orphaned and displaced animals in the trail of destruction.
For those that may have never heard of wildlife shelters, they’re hands-on facilities often run by dedicated and passionate people who devote their lives to caring for animals in need. There are countless shelters around Australia, many of them run from local’s homes, who transform their properties into a safe haven for wildlife.
Carol Seeger, the owner and operator of Emerald Wildlife Shelter, has dedicated her life for the last three decades to rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife around the Dandenong Ranges. She is constantly caring for over 30 animals who have suffered the effects of urbanisation, habitat destruction and climate change.
“I’ve cared for thousands of animals over the last 30 years. I thought I would give it up when I hit 60 years old, but I can’t imagine ever stopping now. I think I’ll be doing this forever.”
When destruction runs rife through Australian land, it’s the wildlife shelters like those run by Carol that nurture the affected animals back to full health, one by one. From joeys who’ve become orphaned during a fire, displaced wombats during floods, injured possums that have fallen during a storm… all native animals are worthy of a second chance.
“It’s so rewarding when an animal comes into care really small or unwell, to finally be able to release it back into the wild.”
The work involved begins with catching and transporting wildlife, assessing their needs, administering medication, caring for wounds, round-the-clock feeding and cleaning, introducing them to the natural way of foraging, and then soft-releasing them back into their wild habitat. All of this takes place over the span of a few weeks, months or years depending on the animal and its individual needs. Not to mention that most of this is done within the confines of someone’s home; it’s a messy, exhausting, and extremely rewarding task.
“I don’t get much sleep, but that’s typical of wildlife carers. It’s very exhausting and can be heartbreaking when one doesn’t make it, but it’s so rewarding when an animal comes into care really small or unwell, to finally be able to release it back into the wild ⏤ it makes me so happy that they’ve finally got freedom again. That’s what drives me to do this work.”
Despite the climate crisis being backed by science and an unfathomable amount of wildlife being affected, there’s still a considerable lack of funding. A huge amount of time, energy and money is needed to successfully rehabilitate Australian wildlife, and most of this is reliant on volunteers and the support of the public.
“Climate groups and protests, contacting your government representatives about the issues that matter to you, advocating for a path to clean energy, amplifying Indigenous ecological knowledge, and making sustainable choices within your individual means are a few ways that we can encourage a better future.”
“Each animal needs feeding for well over a year, and one bag of milk replacement is around $450 ⏤ that lasts me just over 2 weeks. Not to mention all the other feeds that are required. Running a wildlife shelter is very expensive. The best way to support us is through monetary donations, it helps so much.”
Unfortunately, with the climate crisis, habitat destruction and urbanisation continuing to escalate, the need for this type of work will similarly continue to grow. Although rescue and rehabilitation are vital in the conservation of these wild species, when their harm is the result of climate inaction, these are somewhat of a band-aid solution. We need holistic climate action to ensure that our wildlife can safely live in the spaces where they belong ⏤ wild and free.
Getting involved in climate groups and protests, contacting your government representatives about the issues that matter to you, advocating for a path to clean energy, amplifying Indigenous ecological knowledge, and making sustainable choices within your individual means are a few ways that we can encourage a better future. The existence of our flora and fauna, and the human race as a whole, are dependent on it.
But whilst we demand action from those in power, don’t forget about the many wildlife shelters and the people like Carol that are saving the lives of the species you’re bound to know and love. Without them and their incredible dedication and selflessness, the fate of Australian wildlife would be very bleak.