'The smell of death': Woman's touching tale of saving animals on Kangaroo Island

A woman has detailed her efforts on Kangaroo Island as she works to rescue wildlife following the devastating bushfires.

Andrea Lewis is RSPCA South Australia’s Chief Inspector and after two “full on” days, experiencing “many emotions” she was compelled to post some late night “ramblings” detailing her first two days on Kangaroo Island.

“In all my years of involvement with animals I have never seen a situation like this,” Ms Lewis wrote.

“There are areas that look fine, normal even, but soon, you drive through burnt scrub and farmland and are confronted with the sight of dead, burnt animals everywhere you look.

“In some areas, the smell of death is simply overwhelming.”

RSPCA South Australia’s Chief Inspector, Andrea Lewis decided to detail her experience on Kangaroo Island, as she cares for injured animals following the bushfires. Source: RSPCA South Australia

On January 17, Ms Lewis, along with veterinarian Lauren and animal handler Justin started the day with a safety briefing, where they were given maps showing where it was safe for them to go and were alerted to any current warnings in place.

“Lauren was put to work immediately with caring for the koalas who’ve already started their treatment  each day they need to have their wounds reassessed, their bandages changed, and be re-hydrated and medicated where required,” she wrote.

Ms Lewis and Justin went out to a property near Cape Borda, about 45 minutes away from the KI wildlife park, along with a vet from SAVEM.

The team headed there after the army reported that a number of wallabies and kangaroos in the area were barely moving.

“When we approached, this kangaroo just watched us, and didn’t move away. For a wild animal who would normally bolt as soon as it saw anyone coming near it, this wasn’t a good sign,” Ms Lewis recalled.

“With binoculars, Justin and I could see the burns on this kangaroo’s feet were full thickness – so painful, that the poor thing couldn’t stand.

“The kindest thing we could do for this kangaroo was to quickly end her pain by shooting her. She was the first animal we saw today, and she couldn’t be saved. It wasn’t a good start.”

Ms Lewis said the photos of the kangaroos they found with burns to their feet, “lying there, immobile and emaciated” were too graphic to share.

Lauren, a vet attached to the RSPCA tends to animals injured in the Kangaroo Island fires. Source: RSPCA

Sitting in burnt trees on a plantation, hungry and thirsty koalas were in need of help, the team collected them so the vets could treat them.

Over 35 koalas came in for treatment that day, and while Lauren was tending to other patients, Ms Lewis and Justin helped wash and bandage koalas.

“With two weeks having now passed since the first of the fires, the animals coming in now are very badly compromised; they are severely dehydrated and their wounds are infected, but we’re still doing what we can,” Ms Lewis said.

When you’re working in the field, it’s easy to work 10 hours without realising, she added. “You want to just keep going and do more to help – we all do – but you have to be realistic.”

A man at the wildlife park would come around with food and drinks multiple times a day to make sure everyone is doing okay as the community bands together to salvage life from the ruins.

“The people on Kangaroo Island truly are amazing, and it really feels like this place is like its own world,” Ms Lewis said.

It’s not just Ms Lewis and her colleagues out there trying to find injured wildlife, she notes farmers as well as locals and army personnel have all come in with injured koalas who need care.

“Seeing these hard-nosed army and CFS people come in with animals is pretty remarkable,” she said.

“They are so concerned and caring, and they want to do everything they can to help these animals survive.”

Animal handler Justin is working with Andrea Lewis and Lauren on Kangaroo Island. Source: RSPCA South Australia

“I can’t explain how amazing it is when you find an animal who’s okay – who doesn’t have burns and who looks well, and you know you can help them,” Ms Lewis wrote.

“Amid all the destruction, all the ash, all the smoke, when you do see the hearty survivors, I think it makes it all worth it.”

RSPCA South Australia is calling for urgent action to be taken to help save surviving animals, as they fear a “second wave” of an animal welfare disaster is coming.

Ms Lewis, Lauren and Justin are one of three teams of three on Kangaroo Island working to seven-day rotating rosters to help animals.

The RSPCA in South Australia is now accepting expressions of interest for members of the public to help join the RSPCA response team, with all transport, food and accomodation costs covered.

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