'It's a debacle': Heartbreak as kangaroos left with horrific burns

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

WARNING - DISTRESSING CONTENT: Heartbreaking photos show kangaroos suffering severe burns, after authorities undertook hazard reduction burns in a nearby forest.

The injured animals were discovered on Monday, almost three weeks after fires were lit under the guidance of the Department of Conservation (DBCA) in a nature reserve at Perup, 300km south of Perth.

Bill Smart, a semi-retired part-time farmer whose property borders the forest, regularly has up to 80 kangaroos in his paddocks, and even constructed gateways for them so they weren’t injured by his fences.

"I care for them and they stay here sometimes all day," he said.

Kangaroo lying on the ground with burnt feet.
Mr Smart said he noticed five kangaroos on his property with burns to their feet. Source: Supplied

Following the fires, Mr Smart said their behaviour changed.

He became particularly concerned after noticing a male lying in a paddock, just 100 metres from the smouldering forest.

When the animal didn’t hop away, Mr Smart had a closer look and saw it was severely burned.

“I had a look his feet and thought: you poor bugger,” he said.

“Then I thought I better have a look at the others, because I've got a lot of kangaroos in my place.

Two images of kangaroos with burns.
While four of the animals were able to hop, one struggled to stand and was euthanised. Source: Supplied

'How long have they got to suffer': Farmer calls for help

The 68-year-old photographed another four animals which “didn’t want to move”, and later confirmed when he zoomed in on his images that they too were severely injured.

While he was able to euthanise the most badly injured animal, he said he needs help to attend to the others.

“I’m looking out in the paddock now and thinking this is not right,” he said.

“How long have they got to suffer?

“I don’t know how many hundreds are out there suffering the same fate,” he said.

Two images of smouldering habitat trees.
Many habitat trees were destroyed by the flames according to Mr Smart. Source: Supplied

Mr Smart believes the kangaroos were injured by the hazard reduction burns. 

He said he wants authorities to “take responsibility” for the “damage they’ve done” and help the injured animals. 

Endangered numbat last seen running into fire zone

Criticising the intensity of the burn last month, Mr Smart is particularly concerned that authorities have destroyed a number of habitat trees, noting it often takes eucalypts 150 years to form hollows large enough to shelter birds and animals.

“The fire damaged trees were still crashing down yesterday,” he said.

“These are the really ugly old trees that are no good for logging, but they’re prime habitat trees and that’s where wildlife lives.”

A numbat in the smoke.
A numbat was seen fleeing into the fire zone. Source: Supplied

The 285,000-hectare state forest is also known to be home to endangered animals including numbats, a species that the ICUN Red List estimates number just 800 mature individuals.

One numbat, which lived in a log near Mr Smart’s fence line, hasn’t been seen since it ran into the smoky, burnt-out fire zone yesterday.

Despite wanting to venture into the forest to search for the numbat and other injured animals, Mr Smart says it’s still unsafe to do so due to pockets of hot ash and falling trees.

Wildlife rescuer says system must be reformed

Following a call by Yahoo News Australia to FAWNA, the wildlife rescue group sent out a volunteer to assess the kangaroos.

Mr Smart said the rescuer deemed four likely unable to recover, and another three could potentially pull through. All will be assessed by a vet tomorrow.   

Two images of the burnt forest following hazard reduction burns.
Hazard reduction burns were carried out near Mr Smart's property last month. Source: Supplied

FAWNA president Suzanne Strapp said she was surprised to hear about their injuries, adding that increased awareness about wildlife has generally resulted in extra care during prescribed burns.

The biggest issue, she said, is getting timely help for injured animals, particularly in remote areas. 

Although Western Australia has a 24-hour helpline operated by volunteers on behalf of the DBCA, Ms Strapp said it needs to be reformed.

“In a state as big as Western Australia, to have this balls-up-of-a-system which doesn’t allow you to get to animals quickly is frustrating,” she said.

“Many calls just go unanswered, and other times the person on the phone has no one to call on the ground to deal with the situation,” she said.

“I don’t know what happens in other states, but it’s a debacle here.”

The DBCA released a statement to Yahoo News, saying they are investigating reports of injured kangaroos and will "ensure the welfare of any animals affected is addressed".

"The prescribed burn took place on 25 March 2021 in the Weinup Forest Block approximately 25km east of Manjimup. The size of the burn was 1,400 ha. This was a strategically important burn designed to reduce dangerous fuel loads, providing protection to nearby communities from the impacts of bushfires," the statement said.

"DBCA’s fire management program has the aim of managing risk to people, assets and the environment from the damaging impacts of bushfire and ensuring the conservation of biodiversity values on the land it manages.

"Months of planning goes into each prescribed burn, taking into consideration a range of factors, including wildlife, with an aim to create a mosaic of burnt and unburnt areas across the landscape."

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