Wildlife hit hard by Queensland floods

As rescue workers struggle to save possums, kangaroos and koalas, a confusing picture is building of the final toll on animals.
By Daisy Dumas January 14, 2011 Reading Time: 4 Minutes

aAS FLOODS WREAK HAVOC across two thirds of Queensland, a mixed picture is building up of damage not only to property and infrastructure but to communities of animals too.

Flash flooding following Monday’s super rainstorm – described as a “one-in-100-year event” by the Bureau of Meteorology – has so far claimed 15 lives and has left 55 people unaccounted across southeast Queensland.

As the State reels – and continues to brace itself for further flooding – the effect on wildlife is only just coming into focus. Severe weather conditions over the past two to three weeks have seen a growing number of animal rescue efforts underway. 

QLD flood volunteers rescue efforts

David Horstman, president of the Pine Rivers Koala Care Association, says that volunteers had worked around the clock from 2 – 10 January rescuing possums, native birds and reptiles. Another four koalas (which can swim well, although female pouches are not waterproof) have been rescued since Monday.

A possum shelters in an up-turned caravan on the banks of Bundaberg’s swollen Burnett River (Photo: Torsten Blackwood/AFP).

However, once the worst of the floods hit the wildlife rescue organisation’s jurisdiction – which extends over 20 km from Deception Bay to Chermside, 10 km north of Brisbane’s CBD – access and safety issues hampered rescue efforts.

“Today’s the first day we’ve had access to some areas” he says. “While the passion’s there to look after some of these animals, you don’t put your life in jeopardy to save a koala or any other wildlife.” 

Wildlife evacuation

David told Australian Geographic that the “numbers of animal deaths are not at all quantifiable yet”. Nevertheless wildlife rescuers are braced for a grim clean-up of animal bodies when waters recede over coming days and weeks.

Natasja de Gouveia Brazao, president of the Brisbane Area Rescue Network, another wildlife organisation, says they are totally overwhelmed. She has personally overseen the rescue of possums, reptiles, bandicoots and wallabies.

“We’re inundated at the moment. It’s really devastating. We can’t reach a lot of ground animals,” she says. “I’ve evacuated 100 animals myself, we’re trying to give advice to people so they can look after animals at home rather than bring them in – [but] we simply can’t deal with the numbers.”

Wildcare Australia, whose “carers are being stretched beyond limits” is appealing for help via its website. Similarly, the RSPCA is under pressure exacerbated by flooded shelters at Dakabin, Toowoomba and Gympie.

QLD farmers losing livestock

Disturbing images of horses struggling to remain above water have been aired around the world. Farmer John Hefron, who lost 40 per cent of his crop on his property near Texas, at the NSW border, says “you could say the whole river system’s been changed in an instant. Animals have either been washed away or relocated downstream.”

Invasive species they may be, but Hefron has found drowned foxes and rabbits, and suspects that pigs and deer would not have escaped, either.

Livestock have fared better in some cases. “We knew it was coming, so gates were opened and cattle moved to higher ground.” Although many fences have been torn away, farmers far and wide were forced to throw gates open and the tough job of mustering dispersed cattle lies ahead.

Flood losses on relatively flat agricultural areas with little or no high ground, particularly around the St George region, 500 km inland from Brisbane, are yet to emerge.

Experts say floods an important aspect of our environment

Even though floods may first appear disastrous, Professor Richard Norris, an ecologist at the University of Canberra, is positive about their rejuvenating aspects.

“A lot of floodplain vegetation is dependent on rejuvenation after floods, particularly those species that depend on [them] for seeding and germination. Many fish species are also highly dependent on floods for redistribution.”

Snakes, spiders and smaller animals tend to scramble to safety as water levels rise. “You need to be careful” he warns. “Walk through areas half a metre to a metre deep and trees will be covered with snakes and spiders.”

Kangaroos being rescued from recent flood waters by wildlife workers at Lake Burrendong near Wellington, NSW (Photo: AAP/Lake Burrendong Sport and Recreation Centre).

 

Professor Richard Kingsford, director of the Australian Wetlands and Rivers Centre at the University of New South Wales, says floods are hugely important to the Australian environment. Indeed, an endangered waterbird, the Australian bittern, “depends on floods to create breeding habitats, particularly in the Murray Darling basin.”

Reptiles and small mammals, he adds, may struggle most. Josh Meadows of the Australian Conservation Foundation in Melbourne agrees. “Whilst much attention goes to koalas, kangaroos, possums, wombats and gliders, it is the smaller animals and plants that are likely to be the most affected.”  

For now, the true picture of how the floods have affected Queensland’s wildlife remains, like much of the land, submerged.

The Australian Geographic Society is running an appeal to collect donations for wildlife and wildlife carers affected by the QLD floods. All donations are tax deductible and will go towards the work of the QLD Wildlife Rehabilitation Council. DONATE HERE

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