Offshore groups rally to help Aust’s bushfire sticken animals

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Water and feed are at a premium in Australia's New South Wales.
Water and feed are at a premium in Australia’s New South Wales. © Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary

International groups are rallying to help welfare and veterinary organisations in Australia cope with the devastating impact of bushfires on wildlife and domestic animals.

Among them is The Donkey Sanctuary, which has made a one-off £10,000 donation in response to an urgent request to help an animal sanctuary in Australia; The British Small Animal Veterinary Association and the British Equine Veterinary Association have donated £7000 to the Australian Veterinary Association Benevolent Fund to help the veterinary profession in its work; and the Morris Animal Foundation will award $1 million to study the Australian wildfires’ impact on wildlife and support preservation and restoration research.

Australia is home to more than 300 native species, most of which aren’t found anywhere else in the world. Local experts estimate the ongoing wildfires have destroyed more than 12 million acres of land and impacted between 500 and 800 million animals. These immediate issues will soon turn into long-term effects that could drastically change the animals’ future habitat and health.

Desperate situation for donkey sanctuary

As well as the £10,000, The Donkey Sanctuary has agreed to buy 21 tons of barley straw and fund two weekly water collections until the end of April 2020 to help out the Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary in Clarence Town, New South Wales.

The straw delivery will last through to the end of summer in April and also protect them from any price rises for feed, ensuring the donkeys have a stable supply through this unprecedented time of natural crisis.

Drought and now bushfires has meant the Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary In New South Wales is facing a tough road.
Drought and now bushfires has meant the Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary In New South Wales is facing a tough road. © Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary

The Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary (GSDS) is the largest in Australia, looking after 80 to 150 donkeys at any one time. The sanctuary, located in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales, has been badly affected by the terrible drought that has hit Australia and the ongoing threat of bushfires. The sanctuary’s last onsite water catchment dam ran dry last week, and it now has to truck in 11,000 litres of water twice a week for the donkeys. Not only do they need water for the animals, but they also need spare water to put out fires should one start near them. The last substantial rains at the sanctuary were in September 2018.

The sanctuary is increasingly concerned about the lack of available feed for the donkeys. At this time of year, there is usually no shortage of grazing, or locally available straw. The land is parched and bone dry because of a lack of rain and record temperatures. There is barely a blade of grass for the donkeys to feed on, and other local farms are facing the same challenges, making feed a very high commodity.

The sanctuary has exhausted its stores of barley straw intended for winter feed. Local feed suppliers have had to put a cap on the amount of feed any customer can purchase on the same day, which means the only two members of staff at GSDS now have to make a 300km round trip every day, calling in at three different feed merchants to pick up the donkey’s feed for the following day.

Added to this, some merchants have run out by the time the sanctuary reaches them. The feed being sold in NSW is already at a premium, and is sourced from thousands of miles away in Western and South Australia. Demand from commercial farmers is high, supply limited and there is a danger that prices could begin to go up substantially.

The situation now is critical for the sanctuary. It is still not even halfway through its official ‘fire season’. Fires close to the sanctuary are currently listed as being ‘under control’ but the threat of new fires remains and the danger risk for the Hunter Valley region is still high. A hundred fires are still burning across the country and although rain and lower temperatures are forecast for later this week, there is an increased risk of thunderstorms, with lightning strikes further increasing the risk of more fires starting.

The Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary has exhausted its stores of barley straw intended for winter feed.
The Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary has exhausted its stores of barley straw intended for winter feed. © Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary

Simon Pope, Tactical Response Lead at The Donkey Sanctuary said: “We have all seen the utterly heartbreaking scenes unfolding in Australia for both humans and animals alike over the last few months. It’s only due to the generosity of our supporters that we can play a small part by responding in this way – helping donkeys in their time of need.

“The Good Samaritan Donkey Sanctuary have worked tirelessly, sometimes round the clock, to deal with the effects of this drought and with the threat of bushfires still hanging over them.

“When we learned just how hard it’s been for them to source feed and water for the donkeys in their care and the exhausting but determined efforts they’ve had to go to, we knew we had to help.“

Assistance for veterinary efforts

The British Small Animal Veterinary Association and the British Equine Veterinary Association have made a donation of £7000 to the Australian Veterinary Association Benevolent Fund to help assist the work of the veterinary profession who are dedicating their lives to the wellbeing of animals caught in the wildfires. Both associations are also appealing to members to make donations.

BSAVA President Sue Paterson said the organisation wanted to be more proactive, and hoped its membership would support its decision to make a donation. “As the welcome rains have arrived to help dissipate the flames, we feel financial support will help to nurture the green shoots as they start to appear,” she said.

BEVA President Tim Mair said: “We have all been shocked and saddened by this ongoing tragedy but we’re full of admiration for the courageous and generous work being undertaken by our veterinary colleagues Down Under. This gesture of support will hopefully help to sustain the efforts to minimise suffering and rebuild.”

Research has eye on the future

US-based Morris Animal Foundation is allocating $1 million for scientific research grants that will fund studies on how Australia’s wildfires affect its native animals.

“While we recognize the urgent need for boots on the ground to save animal lives now, our role will be to research the impact of the fires to support restoration for years to come,” said Tiffany Grunert, President & CEO of Morris Animal Foundation.

“From population studies of land mammals to the impact downstream on marine wildlife, the need for scientific research to support Australia’s unique, precious wildlife is tremendous. We must do what we can to preserve what remains and restore what was lost.”

Koalas living on Australia’s Kangaroo Island were already part of critical Morris Animal Foundation-funded research. It is estimated the fires have killed 80% of these koalas, which the research team at the University of Adelaide identified as the last large, healthy, isolated population of koalas in Australia.

The Foundation will first create a forum for wildlife researchers to help determine the region’s most pressing needs. Then Morris Animal Foundation will seek requests for proposals, which will be reviewed and approved by the Foundation’s recently formed Senior Scientific Advisory Board.

The $1 million commitment, made possible by a recent legacy gift, nearly doubles the amount the Foundation had devoted to supporting land-based Australian wildlife; however, pressing research needs will likely exceed $1 million. To support the effort, everyone interested can make a gift to Morris Animal Foundation’s Wildlife Research program.

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