THE towering Black Saturday bushfires in 2009 killed 173 people and led to an outpouring of grief among Australians.
But for Wonga Park firefighter Adrian Trigt, they had special meaning that added to the tragedy.
“I visited Kinglake after Black Saturday and the place looked like a warzone,” Mr Trigt said. “I opened an email from Wildlife Victoria and I saw that they needed more wildlife rescuers and so I jumped on board because saving wildlife is important: it does make a difference.”
Mr Trigt has since devoted his time to rescuing and transporting injured kangaroos to wildlife shelters for rehabilitation.
His work is highly specialised, with few people trained in how to rescue kangaroos.
It’s difficult to find volunteers who are willing to regularly spend several hours attempting to save an injured kangaroo, let alone buy the expensive equipment needed to rescue such large and speedy animals.
Car accidents are one of the leading causes of death for native animals such as kangaroos and much of Adrian’s work involves removing dead roos from roads and marking them with a white “X” so passersby know a rescuer has already attended.
“Unfortunately, most animals don’t usually survive car accidents,” Mr Trigt said. “If a kangaroo is lying there with two broken legs and it’s dying, I want to help put the animal out of its misery. You can’t just leave an animal there to suffer.”
Unfortunately, that’s how the overwhelming majority of wildlife injuries end.
Wildlife Victoria, a non-profit emergency response service for wildlife, sent volunteers to help injured animals on about 40,000 call outs last year.
The organisation’s relationship manager, Amy Amato, estimates 80 to 90 per cent of cases resulted in the animal being put down or dying before volunteers arrived at the scene.
“It’s pretty hard on our volunteers and sometimes they go weeks without being able to rescue a single animal,” Ms Amato says. “That’s when our job becomes about ending the animal’s suffering. Nearly every wildlife death or injury is directly or indirectly human-related, whether it’s a road accident, a kangaroo caught on a fence, a pet attack or a bird that has ingested plastic and needs surgery.”
Those animals with a chance of survival end up in the care of one of the organisation’s 500 active wildlife carers, such as Wonga Park’s Adriana Simmonds, who is a biologist and environmental educator from Columbia.
She has nursed around 2000 native Australian animals back to health and released them into the wild over the past 15 years.
Her immense love for Australia’s wildlife is evident to those around her, who haven’t seen her take a proper holiday in 15 years because her shelter always has animals needing her care.
Hello possum: Adriana Simmonds is passionate about her animal rescue work.
Running her wildlife shelter from her home is a 24-hour job, with baby animals requiring feeding throughout the night. It can also be heartbreaking work – sometimes all she can do is ease their suffering as they die from horrific injuries.
Yet Mrs Simmonds says she wouldn’t have her life any other way.
“You sacrifice yourself and at the end of the day you let them go and it’s like you’re letting go of your own child. It’s pure love,” she said.
“When they’re babies I’m a mum to them – I’m affectionate, I kiss them and hug them but as they start growing up I start the process of detachment. When I release them into the wild they are completely dehumanised so they don’t remember me. They need to be completely wild to survive on their own.”
During spring and summer, carers face an influx of orphaned babies, whose mothers have often been hit by cars as they migrate or they’re often attacked by cats whose owners don’t keep them indoors at night.
Mrs Simmonds says global warming is also making natural events such as bushfires more extreme and deadly for wildlife. But she says cutting down forests to make way for developments such as roads and houses have the greatest impact on wildlife, affecting the entire ecosystem.
“You’re limiting their source of food and shelter and the rate at which we destroy is never the same as the rate at which we restore habitat,” Mrs Simmonds said.
“Then animals can die trying to find other shelter. People often view possums in their roofs as pests and yet those possums are there because the trees they would usually live in have been cut down, but people don’t often make the connection.”
Wildlife advocates say many wildlife deaths could be prevented if the Victorian government established more wildlife corridors so native animals could migrate safely through Melbourne’s outer-suburbs such as Warrandyte and Wonga Park.
Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning spokesman Ewan Cook says a guide for wildlife corridors is being developed, which will be followed by a plan.
Meanwhile, Mrs Simmonds is busy looking after the animals in her care and visiting schools and community groups with her business Human Seeds, which educates people on wildlife issues while helping her fund the costs of running her shelter.
“I truly believe education is the only hope we have for the future and I teach people how to incorporate simple changes into their daily lives, which make a big difference to our wildlife,” she said.
“Probably the best thing people can do is plant native vegetation in their backyards – that way people are creating their own wildlife corridors.”
To report injured wildlife, call Wildlife Victoria on 1300 094 535 or visit www.wildlifevictoria.org.au