Fires may have killed a million animals
16:30 AEST Wed Feb 11 2009
More than a million native animals may have perished in Victoria's fire inferno, a wildlife expert says.
The massive effort to rescue animals caught in the fire has begun with triage centres set up to assess injured wildlife at staging posts at Kilmore, Whittlesea and Redesdale near Bendigo.
The animals are then being treated and assessed by vets at nearby shelters, who make the agonising decision about which ones need to be euthanased.
Those animals still able to may wait several weeks before walking out of fire-affected forest, Gayle Chappell from the Hepburn Wildlife Shelter said.
Ms Chappell is among those working to rescue the animals and says the extent of the devastation may never be known.
"It [the animal death toll] will be in the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions," Ms Chappell said.
"We are not just talking the animals we are familiar with, there are gliders and all sorts of possums, antechinus [a mouse-like marsupial], bandicoots, birds — there is so much wildlife.
Koalas are also especially vulnerable to wildfires because they move slowly on the ground. (Read one firefighter's amazing koala rescue story here).
The wildfires cut through parks and forests and sent countless wombats and other native species fleeing.
One resident reported seeing kangaroos bouncing down the road with flames at their backs.
"It is devastating, the actual size of the destruction is devastating to a number of wildlife populations," Ms Chappell said.
It is feared endangered populations of gliders, owls and lizards may be among the dead.
For those that have survived, the recovery process will be long and slow.
"They have lost their homes too and they are not going to be rebuilt in a year or two years, it is a much longer-term picture," Ms Chappell said.
"You can't reconstruct a forest."
The fires also destroyed four wildlife shelters including Stella Reid's Wildhaven shelter at Kinglake.
Ms Chappell said Ms Reid escaped with her life, but the animals were not so lucky.
"It has been a real blow for everybody I think. That is what has really brought it home for everybody, hearing that Stella Reid's place was totalled and all her animals ... they weren't able to get any animals out at all."
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