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The Big Picture
‘Monstrous’ Australian bushfires continue to burn

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Josh Loeb reports on how the fires are affecting wildlife and what vets are doing to help.

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One of the most important things that vets can do is to urge the Australian government to formally declare a climate emergency

At least a billion animals have so far perished because of the Australian bushfires that have wreaked havoc in the country.

Chris Dickman, a professor in terrestrial ecology at the University of Sydney, said last week that he had revised his estimate of the number of animals killed in bushfires in New South Wales to more than 800 million animals, with a national impact of more than one billion animals.

That grim tally is expected to be far higher if one includes invertebrates.

Speaking to National Public Radio in the USA last week, he said: ‘I think there’s nothing quite to compare with the devastation that’s going on over such a large area so quickly.

‘It’s a monstrous event in terms of geography and the number of individual animals affected.’

Anne Fawcett, a Sydney-based small animal vet, said: ‘One of the most important things that vets, vet nurses, practice managers and other colleagues can do is to urge the Australian government to formally declare a climate emergency.

‘One of the key reasons that the bushfire season has been so extreme has been prolonged drought and lack of preparedness for fires…We need to alter this “business as usual” approach.’

Several prominent UK vets took to social media over the weekend to urge concerned colleagues to donate to the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) via www.ava.com.au/donate amid concerns for Australian vets and vet nurses who have lost homes and potentially practices in the fires.

The AVA is raising money to assist such individuals through its benevolent fund.

Organisations like New South Wales Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service (WIRES) are seeking vet volunteers ‘for the longer term’. They estimate that some wild animals with burns might need to be cared for up to two years before they can be released back into the wild – if suitable habitat is available. Anyone who is interested in volunteering is being urged to contact WIRES directly.

Temporary registrations with the Australian Veterinary Boards Council (AVBC) are understood to be available for up to a month for eligible overseas vet volunteers. However, they may need to arrange their own professional liability and indemnity insurance. Vets’ qualifications must also be recognised by the AVBC.

International aid organisation World Vets has sent veterinary personnel who specialise in dealing with disasters to Australia to help in the relief efforts, while the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe is expected to discuss ways in which it might assist at a board meeting this week.

Support work is also underway here in the UK, with some practices collecting aid and supplies to send to Australia as part of a drive to help animals affected by the bushfires.

Springfield Vets, a practice in the South Downs, has sent out aid parcels including bandaging materials, cotton wool and pillow cases, which can be used as ‘joey pouches’ for orphaned baby kangaroos.

Donations were posted to the Queensland-based Rescue Collective, one of many organisations working to help animals in Australia.

Some Medivet practices are also collecting donations for Australia, and Vets Now is looking into how it can help. Pets at Home wrote a cheque for £100,000 for the World Wildlife Fund’s Australian bushfire emergency appeal through the company’s charitable giving scheme. ●

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