Bushfires in Australia
The Australian bush needs to burn in order to regenerate.
But fires are tremendously destructive. Not only do they destroy people's lives and property, as seen in the terrible 2009 fires in the State of Victoria, but they can also have a terrible impact on our wildlife.
The debate rages on about whether controlled hazard reduction burning should be performed outside of the fire seasons to reduce fuel loads and, therefore, the chance of bushfires raging out of control.
The fact is that, for thousands of years, the Australian landscape has burned naturally. Fires were caused by lightning and fueled by the summer's dry leaves and the euclaypt in the gum trees, just as they are today. Also, indigenous Australians, with a deep knowledge and understanding of the land, systematically burned the bush to promote plant activity and to assist in the hunt. This is called "firestick farming".
Today, fires may be caused by lightning, arcing from powerlines, people's carelessness e.g. by throwing cigarette butts out of car windows, and even deliberate arson.
There is a strong argument for controlled burning today. Controlled burns are usually "cool" burns that cause only superficial damage to the trees and ground. Animals deep in their burrows survive, seeds germinate, and trees put out new shoots.
The alternative is to continue to unnaturally protect the land from bushfires, but this leads to massive build-up of fuel over time and the increased likelihood of rare but devastating wildfires.
2009 Fires near Walkabout Park
As the catastrophic fires started up in Victoria, Walkabout Park was facing its own bushfire emergency. The 2009 Peats Ridge fire was moving in our direction and was only eventually contained 4.5 km from the park. We started preparing for a possible evacuation on the Saturday and ended up closing the park late-morning on the Sunday for the safety of our visitors and to devote all our time and resources to getting the park fire-ready. We took the difficult decision to start evacuating the captive animals that would not be too traumatised by the move - we just couldn't take the chance of leaving the full evacuation to the last minute! Captive reptiles and small mammals were moved, and carry cases (and destinations) were prepared for the other captive animals in case we had to evacuate in the middle of the night. We were ready to put our defense plan into action for the free-ranging animals and did as much fire preparation as we could to save the park itself. Luckily the fire didn't get to us, and it was an excellent practice run for when/if this happens again.
A Koala Bushfire Refugee
These pictures were taken by a group of cyclists when they were approached for help by a koala refugee from the bushfires in Victoria in February 2009.
The koala grasped a cyclist's leg - an unexpected gesture in a wild koala, showing its desperation. Realising it needed help, the cyclists offered it a drink from a water bottle, which it gratefully accepted.
The situation with the wildfires in Victoria in February 2009 were exceptionally devastating for people and animals alike and these special gestures by members of the public have been so important.
However, wild koalas are dangerous. Under normal circumstances, never approach a wild koala. Instead, call a wildlife rescue organisation and they will send a trained person to assist the animal.
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