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Injured wildlife get only $6.5m from $60m fires donations

Wildlife carers are struggling to save thousands of animals injured in bushfires, while tens of millions of dollars in donations sit idle.

The NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Services (WIRES) has received more than $60 million from around the world, but The Daily Telegraph can reveal only $6.5 million has been allocated to date.

At the same time, small NSW rescue operations are crying out for funds to help support injured animals.

A koala named Paul recovers from his burns in the ICU at The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital. Picture: Nathan Edwards
A koala named Paul recovers from his burns in the ICU at The Port Macquarie Koala Hospital. Picture: Nathan Edwards

Scientists believe a billion animals were killed by fires this season, with millions more injured or left without food and habitats.

Possumwood Wildlife, an animal rescue and research facility on the southern tablelands, is one group that has not received any cash from WIRES.

An orphaned eastern grey kangaroo joey recovering from burns in the care of Kevin Clapson from WIRES. Picture: Steven Saphore
An orphaned eastern grey kangaroo joey recovering from burns in the care of Kevin Clapson from WIRES. Picture: Steven Saphore

Co-directors Professor Steve Garlick and his wife Rosemary Austen have relied on international aid and visiting vets to help treat animals burned in bushfires.

"I would say most wildlife organisations around here have a very negative view of WIRES," he said.

"They put out a note saying they were prepared to give grants of up to $20,000 for groups, well if you do the math on how many there are in NSW, that's not much of what has been donated."

Veterinarian Brett Jones consults with wildlife caregiver Rosemary Austen after changing a burned kangaroos’ bandages. Photo: John Moore
Veterinarian Brett Jones consults with wildlife caregiver Rosemary Austen after changing a burned kangaroos’ bandages. Photo: John Moore


Sunshine Coast local Dee Smith has been collecting medical supplies to send to small shelters and carer co-ordinators directly because WIRES had been too slow.

"At the end of the day the wildlife should be everyone's main concern and I would think that $60 million would be more than enough to share throughout Australia for carers and shelters who are working hard to nurse these animals back to health," she said.

A wildlife rescue volunteer with kangaroos and wallabies at the Possumwood Wildlife recovery centre. Picture: John Moore
A wildlife rescue volunteer with kangaroos and wallabies at the Possumwood Wildlife recovery centre. Picture: John Moore

Ms Smith said she had supported about 40 carers in Victoria and knew of two other women who had supported about 100 volunteers spread across NSW, Victoria and Canberra.

"I also know of a group of 40 carers in Victoria who have all applied for funding through WIRES and have heard nothing back," she said.

The $60 million in donations is almost 20 times what WIRES received last year.

WIRES Blue Mountains branch volunteer rescuer and carer Tracy Burgess with a badly burnt possum that had to be euthanised.
WIRES Blue Mountains branch volunteer rescuer and carer Tracy Burgess with a badly burnt possum that had to be euthanised.

According to the organisation's 2018/19 annual report, WIRES' entire revenue was about $3.3 million, of which about $1.9 million was spent on staff costs.

The charity had 13 full-time employees, two part-time and 23 casual staff.

A WIRES spokesman said until the "overwhelming" global response, including from Barack Obama, Ellen DeGeneres and Kylie Jenner, the organisation lived "hand to mouth".

"We have not asked any of these people for support, it appears to all be self generating as the world has watched the horror unfold," he said.

"In terms of this unprecedented crisis WIRES has developed a strategic framework comprising Response (immediate), Relief and Recovery stages."

Wildlife caregiver Rosemary Austen soothes a burned kangaroo at the Possumwood Wildlife recovery centre. Picture: John Moore
Wildlife caregiver Rosemary Austen soothes a burned kangaroo at the Possumwood Wildlife recovery centre. Picture: John Moore

Two weeks ago WIRES launched a $1 million grant program for rescue groups to apply for $20,000 and individuals to apply for $5000 to cover the costs of animal food, medical supplies, veterinary needs and equipment.

 

 

WIRES has also allocated $2 million to wildlife volunteers for "immediate needs", $1 million for water and habitat replacements and $1 million for food.

The spokesman for WIRES said the organisation would role out $25 million for Stage 2, including long-term rehabilitation of animals and research to identify threatened species.

Wildlife rescuers load a bushfire burned kangaroo for transport to the Possumwood Wildlife recovery centre earlier this month. Dart gun specialist Marcus Fillinger had tranquillised the male kangaroo with a dart after seeing the wounded animal at a fire-scorched Koala reserve. Picture: John Moore
Wildlife rescuers load a bushfire burned kangaroo for transport to the Possumwood Wildlife recovery centre earlier this month. Dart gun specialist Marcus Fillinger had tranquillised the male kangaroo with a dart after seeing the wounded animal at a fire-scorched Koala reserve. Picture: John Moore

Stage 3 - estimated to be $22 million - will then focus on preserving remaining populations and rolling out WIRES rescue response training interstate to increase the number of volunteers.

WIRES' Facebook page has been flooded with comments from people concerned about how slowly funds were being given out.

 

 

 

A koala clings to a burnt tree near Vivvone Bay on Kangaroo Island in South Australia. Picture: Brad Fleet
A koala clings to a burnt tree near Vivvone Bay on Kangaroo Island in South Australia. Picture: Brad Fleet
Four-month-old orphaned wombat Xena nestles in a pouch at the Majors Creek Wombat Refuge. Picture: John Moore
Four-month-old orphaned wombat Xena nestles in a pouch at the Majors Creek Wombat Refuge. Picture: John Moore
A brushtail possum whose ears and legs have been burnt from recent bushfires sits in a cage before being transported to a wildlife hospital in Batemans Bay, South of Sydney. Picture: AAP
A brushtail possum whose ears and legs have been burnt from recent bushfires sits in a cage before being transported to a wildlife hospital in Batemans Bay, South of Sydney. Picture: AAP

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