WARNING - CONFRONTING IMAGES: A South Australian mum has been driven to tears after returning from a mission to save dozens of animals stranded by flooding.
Images shared with Yahoo News Australia reveal a glimpse into the death and suffering that wildlife veterinary nurse Kerry Machado, and a handful of local volunteer rescuers, witnessed at a property in Blanchetown on the Murray River.
“It’s been a really hard day,” Ms Machado said on Monday night. “Some of the adult kangaroos were so weak you could just walk up to them. There were bodies floating everywhere. It was brutal.”
Entering the flood zone, Ms Machado was struck by how quiet it was. “It’s really eerie when you get out there, and there were kangaroos just bouncing through the water. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get to them all.”
Echidnas were scooped up in buckets, lizards were carried by hand, and three kangaroo joeys were taken into care and placed inside warm handmade pouches.
Moment that moved vet nurse to tears
While rescuers were thankful the South Australia environment department (DEW) allowed them to enter the property to undertake wildlife rescues, they remain frustrated that it has so far refused to allow them to relocate adult kangaroos. Rescuers were given no option but to shoot the survivors, sparing the trapped animals from a slow, agonising death.
“We were in the boat and we came across this small mob of kangaroos,” Ms Machado said. “There was a mother kangaroo and she was hunched over protecting her joey. The joey’s whole body was submerged and just her head was poking up. She was just crying out and clawing at her mother’s pouch, and trying to get inside, but she couldn’t because it was underwater.”
Ms Machado said rescuers were able to walk up to the joey, pick her up and take her into care. She begins to cry over the phone as she reveals the mother had to be euthanised. “If I was permitted to tranquillise them and relocate them I could have done that successfully,” she added.
Countless other animals at risk of drowning
Animal Rescue Cooperative founder Derek Knox liaised with state authorities and rescuers over a number of weeks to help coordinate the mission.
Despite being frustrated that the crew could not get permission to relocate the adult kangaroos, he is thankful that DEW allowed volunteers to help the joeys, echidnas and lizards. “As heartbreaking as this is. Something has been saved,” he wrote on social media.
Although the mission was a success of the mission, Mr Knox describes it as a “Band-Aid” solution. Countless other animals remain stranded along the Murray River. Many are between 500 metres and 1 kilometre away from dry land and have clambered onto logs and tiny patches of dirt to survive.
While many people believe kangaroos are strong swimmers, they are not, particularly given the condition they are in. “The water rose really, really fast and animals have been sitting on the banks for a number of weeks, so they just stand there and drown,” Mr Knox said.
“Everyone knowing full well what was absolutely going to happen when it flooded over the large land masses in the middle and to either side. Everything would starve and then drown in full view of the public,” Mr Knox wrote on social media.
Department urges South Australians to report stranded wildlife
DEW responded to the criticism, telling Yahoo News Australia translocating wildlife into new areas is "not always suitable".
"There are a number of reasons for this primarily related to animal welfare considerations and outcomes for the animals, as such the department is not generally supportive of allowing relocation of kangaroos," a spokesperson said.
DEW is provided advice from outside agencies on how to react to emergency situations. It is urging anyone concerned about wildlife to make contact via its website.
"South Australian Veterinary Emergency Management (SAVEM) group have been activated to advise on animal welfare issues associated with River Murray flooding," a spokesperson said. "In consultation with PIRSA, who have lead responsibility for animal welfare in emergencies, the Department for Environment and Water (DEW) is coordinating the wildlife response for stranded or at-risk wildlife."
Call for future flood planning to include Indigenous knowledge
Rescuers are not the only ones frustrated that authorities did not move sooner to rescue the stranded wildlife. An Indigenous elder thinks its time government turned to local Indigenous groups because their knowledge could help mitigate the impact of future flooding events.
Quentin Agius from the Ngadjuri nation told Yahoo News Australia the state government and local councils situated along flooded rivers should have acted to prevent wildlife becoming stranded when the rain began. "We should have acted when we knew this was going to happen," he said. "They saw the water coming, they themselves knew they should have started moving a long time ago."
"We knew in the past when you should move in and clear the area," he said. "We have to make an attempt to make sure that we sustain life, but that's what they never do. They never worry about every other animal and every other insect. People just worry about what's around us now. So it's stuff the animals. If they're not in an area where it's affecting people they don't give a sh*t."
Mr Agius would like to see authorities think beyond the current flood and work with Indigenous communities to plan for future extreme weather events.
"Our people have got documentary history of our country," Mr Agius said. "They know about these animals and when things are going to happen. Because it's happened in the past. They could talk to Indigenous people like the old people did in the past, and grow knowledge of the area to know where these animals are going to end up getting trapped in."
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