Rescuers are fearing absolute devastation for Australia’s already fragile wildlife population in the months ahead after El Niño was officially declared this week amid repeated warnings of a catastrophic bushfire season.
Robert Leach, Animal Rescue Officer for International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), told Yahoo News Australia we cannot afford a repeat of Black Summer, but El Niño sparks immense fear that "it could be a possibility".
"The sad reality is that our wildlife cannot handle much more", Mr Leach said. "I don’t want to imagine what another devastating summer [like that] would do to the already declining population numbers of our iconic Aussie species."
Temperatures have been soaring along Australia's east coast this week due to a spring heatwave caused by a slow-moving high pressure system off the coast. On confirming on Tuesday an El Niño climate pattern for spring, Bureau of Meteorology Climate Manager Karl Braganza said "we are likely to see a continuation of the warm and dry conditions over the summer months”.
Fears of another 'black summer' wildlife disaster
Approximately three billion animals were lost or severely impacted during the Black Summer fires of 2019-20. WWF-Australia CEO, Dermot O’Gorman described it as one of the “worst wildlife disasters in modern history”.
Of the three billion animals impacted, over 60,000 were koalas, who were added to endangered species lists in NSW, QLD, and ACT after the event.
As of Wednesday, 600 firefighters are battling 65 fires across NSW, there's a bushfire burning through Tasmania's east coast which has firefighters working to control it, and in Queensland dozens of fires have been burning across the state.
How can the public help our wildlife?
Now is the time to start thinking of safety measures and ways to help communities and wildlife through the El Niño season, Mr Leach told Yahoo. “We must do all that we can now to ensure our wildlife and the people who care for them are prepared," he said.
Download the IFAW Wildlife Rescue App now which will put you in touch with your nearest wildlife rescue group as needed.
If you see a displaced, orphaned, or injured animal, notify your local wildlife rescue immediately.
People can provide a safe supply of clean water to animals by putting a sturdy, shallow container or dispenser in a cleared, shady spot (at different heights), NSW Department of Planning and Environment advise. Add a stable rock or stick to give safe access out of the water for insects, birds and reptiles, and change daily to prevent the spread of disease.
For those with swimming pools, keep it covered or secure a flotation device to the side of the pool to allow thirsty wildlife to escape if they fall in while drinking. Check it daily.
Wildlife flee to urban areas during bushfires
Metropolitan areas may notice native species and wildlife popping up in places they wouldn't usually see them during bushfire season.
"There will be a lot of animals escaping fires who are displaced, animals may go in land or into metropolitan or urban areas," Mr Leach said.
"Your local wildlife groups will give you the best advice depending on what's relevant to your area."
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