'Animals are dying and starving': Call for charity to release more donations

·News and Video Producer
·5-min read

WIRES has defended its handling of more than $60 million in bushfire donations, after an open letter criticised the wildlife charity for distributing only a small portion to animals in immediate need.

Registered nurse Sarah Hart told Yahoo News Australia she posted her now viral letter to social media on Sunday after meeting with WIRES CEO Leanne Taylor, during which she learnt that only $7 million in donations had been released.

Many carers say they are struggling financially to assist large numbers of drought and bushfire affected animals, but with some operating on as little as one hour’s sleep a night, some are struggling to find time to fill out funding applications.

Instead of setting aside a portion of the donations for research and long-term projects, Ms Hart would like to see all funds released immediately.

“There is chaos everywhere - these animals are dying and starving and it’s almost become white noise,” she said.

“I’ve got so many messages from people saying the same thing.”

“It’s making me really angry because there seems to be absolutely no sense of urgency when there’s a massive crisis.”

A burnt koala lies on a white sheet. The hands of a doctor can be seen in the background using a stethoscope.
A koala undergoes assessment after bushfires on Kangaroo Island. Source: AAP
Split screen. Left - a burnt galah in a cage looks to camera. Right - a wallaby joey in a carer's arms.
A galah and joey who came into WIRES care in January after the Picton fires. Source: Supplied

Ms Hart’s letter has attracted the attention of many within the animal rescue community and at the time of writing had been shared more than 5,800 times.

In her post, Ms Hart urges WIRES to send teams out into the fire zones to actively consult with carers so they can help animals needing immediate attention.

“These funds were always intended to be passed on to the carers and shelters who are rescuing and rehabilitating our wildlife,” Ms Hart’s letter reads.

“No-one is ok with you withholding funds. No-one agrees that what we need right now is ‘research’ as animals are in critical care or starving out in the barren wild.

“You were entrusted with these funds, and it’s time to deliver. Right Now.”

‘It comes with huge responsibility’: WIRES CEO responds to criticism

This season’s bushfire emergency resulted in a generous influx of donations from individuals, corporations and celebrities.

With the majority of fire across the country now contained or extinguished, many charities are being forced to clarify their handing of millions of dollars in bushfire aid.

NSW based WIRES became the face of the wildlife recovery effort, attracting the majority of the sector’s donations, which they pledged to distribute between other groups around the country.

The charity say they will allocate $25 million to rehabilitation and release of native animals, and estimate the same amount will be spent on wildlife recovery and risk reduction, including research to save threatened species.

WIRES CEO Leanne Taylor told Yahoo News Australia they have also taken steps to work with the major groups in each state as well as smaller sanctuary operators.

A flying fox pup is fed milk from a large syringe.
Flying foxes are being affected by extreme heatwaves and have lost food sources due to bushfires. Source: Michael Dahlstrom / Yahoo News Australia
Split screen. Left - three carers stand around the back of a ute with hay in it. Right - a woman stands inside a half built enclosure. There are burnt trees in the background.
WIRES have allocated donations to building enclosures and delivering animal feed. Source: Supplied

Ms Taylor said they have financially supported 79 wildlife groups, helping them buy resources including enclosures, food and emergency medical equipment.

While Ms Taylor calls Ms Hart’s criticism of WIRES a “misrepresentation”, she concedes the animal sector is a difficult area to operate in and understands why some carers are frustrated.

“Some of the criticism is founded, sometimes we do miss the mark,” Ms Taylor said.

“I can’t say to you that we have managed to seek out every one of our members and give them what they need.

“We will have missed people, and we want to resolve when that’s happened.

Split screen. Left - a burnt out forest against a blue sky. Right - burnt animal bones on the ground.
Burnt out forests will take years to recover, robbing wildlife of food sources. Source: Michael Dahlstrom / Yahoo News Australia

“We don’t want to miss anyone as there’s absolutely no reason why anyone should have missed out.

“The target for us is that everyone gets that help and all of those animals get the help that they need.”

Ms Taylor believes WIRES has a responsibility to ensure that bushfire affected animals and their carers are looked after into the future.

“It’s a great gift and it comes with huge responsibility and we absolutely have to deliver now we’ve been entrusted with this funding across the sector nationally,” she said.

“The fund which is an emergency fund covers beyond bushfires - it covers drought and extreme weather events.

“A lot of the animals, I guess, are going to come in from secondary things as a result of the fires, so around loss of habitat and the drought, loss of food. So it will be a long running program to assist carers.”

The author, Michael Dahlstrom, is a registered wildlife carer in NSW with Wildlife ARC.

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