The terrible bushfires that ripped through the heart of rural Victoria in southern Australia last week are still burning, though firefighters are hopeful the worst is over.
In Australia’s worst natural disaster, at least 200 people have died and thousands left homeless. People around the world – including musician Pink – have opened their hearts and wallets to help the victims rebuild their lives – and closer to home people have opened their veins as well, with record numbers flocking to donate blood. The Australian Red Cross is continuing to accept donations from around the world for its Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund.
While it’s clearly a traumatic time for many families, please also spare a thought for the other victims of the bushfire – all the animals left homeless as the forest burnt down around them. Koalas, which are already under threat from disease, habitat destruction and climate change, have been found sitting dazed and thirsty on the forest floor. Koalas are slow moving and they do not breed prolifically. Wildlife rescue centres in Victoria are calling for donations to help them treat the overflow of sick and injured animals and release them back to the wild. Here’s a full round-up of ways to donate to help the animal victims of the bushfire.
As Australian children are taught in school, fire is a natural part of the eco-system in eucalyptus forests. Many plant species require fire to germinate and the regular cleansing effect of fire is what keeps the forest from turning into rainforest, as found in the wetter parts of Australia such as the subtropical rainforest of the north and the cool temperate rainforest of Tasmania. There is evidence that the Australian Aborigines who lived before the arrival of white people understood this and undertook controlled burning to keep the forest in the optimal condition for hunting.
However, the natural bushfires of yore bear scant resemblance to the monster fires that are currently taking Victoria hostage. Part of this is because, without the indigenous people to regularly burn the undergrowth, the forests are more densely vegetated, providing more fuel for the fires. There’s also the fact that police believe many of these fires were deliberately lit – in the middle of a heat wave that saw temperatures climb to the mid forties (120 Fahrenheit). Australia already has an infamously harsh climate marked by extreme weather – as a traditional Australian folk song puts it, the “creeks run dry or 10-foot high”. Unfortunately, climatologists predict Australian weather will become even hotter and drier as global climate change progresses.
In the mean time, research into Australia’s unique ecology and wildlife is essential if we are to give them a fighting chance against climate change. The Australian Koala Foundation is a scientific organisation devoted to koala research and spreading awareness and understanding of how to support Australia’s cuddliest national icon.
Image: tiny froglet