People wanting to care for wild animals hurt in Australia’s devastating bushfires have been warned they could be doing more harm than good.
Taronga Zoo Wildlife Hospital senior veterinarian Larry Vogelnest says the destruction of native habitat has led to an increase in wildlife seeking shelter, food and water in urban areas.
That can create new risks for their wellbeing as they come into contact with pets and vehicles.
“Animals are just starving, they have no food and they are seeking shelter and water,” Dr Vogelnest told reporters at the zoo on Tuesday.
“We’re probably going to see a bit more of that as the fires subside, we’re going to see a lot more animals getting in trouble for other reasons.”
The vet said it was often best to leave stressed animals alone and call a wildlife organisation.
“If there is a need to actually immediately pick up and rescue the animal, great care must be taken in terms of not injuring the animal any further, not stressing it and not causing potential injury to yourself,” Dr Vogelnest said.
If koalas are given water from bottles they must be allowed to lap up the water to avoid further complications, for example.
“Keep the flow very slow,” he said, and allow the koala to lap the water off the end of the bottle.
“The risk with pouring the water into their mouth is that they can’t swallow as quickly as the water is going into their mouth and there is a risk of them breathing that in.”
Dr Volegnest also encouraged the public to cover swimming pools or allow easy exit points to prevent animals from drowning.
“Everyone wants to help the wildlife – it’s such a tragic situation seeing animals starving,” he said.
Providing feed such as straw and hay should be avoided as it can spread weeds and support introduced species such as rabbits.
Taronga Conservation Society Australia wildlife director Nick Boyle described the devastation as “catastrophic”.
He highlighted the importance of targeted breeding programs and understanding the extent of habitat damage.
“It’s important to say that there is hope,” Mr Boyle said.
Experts will gather in Canberra on Wednesday to discuss the federal government’s $50 million funding commitment for wildlife recovery.
Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley said the meeting was essential to ensure the money was properly spent “on the ground”.
“It’s not just about the short term, it’s about the longer-term rebuilding of our precious native populations,” Ms Ley said.
She visited Taronga Zoo on Tuesday to learn about the organisation’s conservation effort in supporting wildlife impacted by the NSW blazes.