Black Summer fires 12 months on – a kangaroo's incredible battle

Michael Dahlstrom
·News and Video Producer
·7-min read

Heartwarming photos show the recovery of a determined kangaroo, 12 months after she suffered life-threatening burns in the Black Summer bushfires.

Having lost many of her mob to the flames, Clover “looked like a ghost of herself” when she returned home.

Twisted in pain, she pulled her elbows across her stomach and lay down unable to hop.

Clover lies on a bed of hay and a towels in a tent. The burnt ground can be seen in the background
Clover returned to the home where she was raised only to find it had been burned to the ground. Source: Wild2Free

Despite her physical distortion, the roo’s almond shaped eyes remained distinct enough for her former carer Rae Harvey to recognise her when she returned to survey the damage.

Ms Harvey had lost her Runnyford home on the NSW South Coast days earlier, fleeing as fire swept through her property just after 4am on New Year’s Eve, 2019.

She wasn’t back to mourn the home she had lost, she was searching for wildlife which had survived the fires.

Left - Rae Harvey (right) and a carer wearing face masks as in the dark. Rae Harvey's neighbour Simon in a boat agains a red sky.
Wildlife carer Rae Harvey escaped her burning property on New Year's Eve with the help of a neighbour. Source: Supplied

Clover and a host of other orphans had been raised on Ms Harvey’s property as youngsters.

When they needed a good feed or help with an injury, they had continued to return even in adulthood.

When Clover’s first child, LC, went blind after suffering a head trauma, her mother guided her back towards the house and she was cared for until her eyesight came back.

Left - Clover standing on bare ground with her feet bandaged. Right - Rae Harvey and Clover in a tent, there is hay on the ground.
It took vets weeks to realise the extent of Clover's injuries. Source: Wild2Free

It had been three years since Clover herself had been in care as a joey, and now the independently minded roo needed Ms Harvey’s kindness again.

The problem was, she had no intention of being a good patient.

Clover’s troublesome past as a joey in care

Even close to death, Clover was determined to cause trouble for her carer.

“Really bossy” is how Ms Harvey describes the roo’s behaviour as a joey.

The 10-month-old quickly gained an alliterated nickname which started with the phrase, “Clover the” and ended in a curse-word.

Left - Joey Clover in a tiny hanging Christmas pouch. Right - Rae Harvey holds a bucket and feeds joey Clover.
Clover was a troublesome joey when Rae Harvey raised her as an orphan. Source: Wild2Free

“She would stand in front of everybody else’s pouches and eat all their food and leave hers in pristine condition,” Ms Harvey told Yahoo News Australia.

“She’d pee and poo in front of their pouches and then go and get in back into her own that was all beautiful and lovely.

“So she wasn’t particularly nice.”

When Clover went back into care as an adult, Ms Harvey would soon learn that the roo was still not respectful when it came to peeing on other’s beds.

Clover goes missing as her injuries worsen

Despite the lack of services after the bushfires, roos who had burns on the surface of their skin were quickly treated by volunteer vets.

Bandaging injuries was difficult as the animals would venture into a nearby muddy estuary in the heat of the day to stay cool, resulting in a high risk of infection.

Antibiotics were enough to rehabilitate many of the survivors, and Cricket, a kangaroo with third degree burns was hopping about again by mid-February.

Clover sheltering under corrugated iron after the bushfires.
Clover shelters under what was once the roof of Rae Harvey's house. Source: Wild2Free

It was only after Clover was slow to recover that it was later realised she had third degree burns deep under her skin.

An early sign of her ill-health had been the adoption of Clover’s son, Clyde.

He had been by her side when the blaze swept through, but was taken in and suckled by another female kangaroo as Clover deteriorated.

Clover then lost a small, pink baby she had been harbouring in her pouch.

Days later she went missing.

Clover finds help after her health declines

Ms Harvey continued caring for the rest of the mob, feeding and medicating them with the help of vets, in a colourless landscape denuded of leaves and grass.

The trees no longer provided adequate shade, so volunteers came to erect shelters to keep the surviving kangaroos sheltered as temperatures continued to soar.

It was one of them, a man who came to work on the guttering, who found Clover two weeks later at the bottom of a hill while on an evening walk.

Unable to stand, but desperate to survive, the roo pulled her body out from the scrub and onto the path the man was walking along.

Before and after shots of Clover's injured paw toenail and then when it has fallen out.
Clover's toenails came off after she was brought into care. Source: Wild2Free

Sharing a bedroom with an injured kangaroo

Clover was wrapped in a blanket and carried back home.

Ms Harvey set up a single mattress for her at the base of her own bed so she could keep a close eye on her.

“I was lying sideways at the foot of my bed so we were kind of next to each other,” she said.

“So I could be with her, so I could pat her, so I could give her a scratch.”

One of Clover’s toenails had already fallen off and was bleeding, a second one dropped away on the first night she lay in care.

Now inside, in a cleaner environment, Ms Harvey was finally able to bandage the roo’s injuries and her health began to improve.

“Within a week she was jumping up on my bed to pee and she was showing signs of wanting to get out,” Ms Harvey said.

“She wasn’t nice, I got a maximum of two hours sleep a night that week.”

Amid the commotion, the other surviving kangaroos realised Ms Harvey was sheltering in the cabin and began surrounding it at night where they felt safe.

Left - Clover lying on a mattress eating grass. Right - A male vet treating Clover on her bed.
Clover was given a mattress at the foot of Ms Harvey's mattress where she could recover and receive treatment. Source: Wild2Free

Clover bounces away to join the mob

As the weeks went by, Clover’s health continued to improve, but her manners did not.

The outside roo’s presence stoked Clover’s determination to leave the bedroom, and despite being given pain relief to keep her calm, she continued to misbehave.

Stressed kangaroos are susceptible to an often fatal stress induced condition called myopathy, and Ms Harvey became increasingly concerned Clover’s behaviour would induce it.

Every night, Clover could hear the mob’s activity and she became increasingly determined to get outside.

Despite the blinds being pulled down, she would focus on the sliver of light she could see through a crack in the door and fixate on it.

“It was six o'clock in the morning and she could hear them starting to move and leave and she wanted to be with them,”

“I thought if she’s that desperate to go with them, she's ready.

“So I flew the door open and just as the last kangaroo was taking off, she went and joined them.

“She hopped perfectly.”

Not the ‘fairy-tail’ most expected

Worrying whether Clover was okay is how Ms Harvey spent her next few weeks after Clover disappeared again.

Despite their personality clashes, Ms Harvey’s dedication to the roo should not be underestimated.

When Clover returned again, this time with her toenails growing back and another joey in the pouch, Ms Harvey says she felt “brilliant”.

Left - Clover in April after returning. Image is shot at night and there is food in the foreground. Right - Clover in December with her baby in her pouch.
Clover returned after receiving care with a joey in her pouch. Source: Wild2Free

“Every single day, Clover was on my mind for four months straight,” she said.

“Every day I was thinking about Clover, whether she was in care and I knew what was going on, whether she was traumatised, or whether I couldn’t find her because she disappeared.

“I thought I was going to lose her that first day.”

When Clover returns, she lets Ms Harvey give her a scratch and an almond, but realistically, she doesn’t have the same bond she does with other kangaroos.

“I love her and I care about her, but she doesn’t care about me that much,” she said.

“I know, that's not what you want to hear, but it’s true.”

Ms Harvey has lived in the surviving cottage for the last 12 months, nursing injured kangaroos back to health.

She plans to rebuild her sanctuary and continue her work raising awareness about kangaroos.

Ms Harvey is an authorised wildlife carer with Wildlife Rescue South Coast, which enables her to provide care to injured and orphaned kangaroos.

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