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  • Writer's pictureZoe Cawthorn

Saving the Survivors: Thousands of Wild Animals Left Homeless in Australia Fires are Rescued

Updated: Jan 22, 2020

The widespread bush fires in Australia have left surviving koalas and other animals homeless and unable to survive unless rescued, but finding them in such vast scorched areas is extremely difficult. Recent rains have helped ease some of the fires, but made the search for displaced wildlife more difficult. The good news is that wonderful organisations and individuals are hard at work to rescue thousands of survivors of these tragic fires.

'Kenny' the Koala was rescued in Bilpin, part of a National Park near Sydney. One of the wonderful firefighters saved him from a burning area of forest late at night. Wildlife rescue charity WIRES were notified and quickly collected Kenny, taking him into care in the early hours of the morning. Kenny was attended to by vets before being handed over to an experienced koala rehabilitation unit to give him the best chance of recovery. Kenny will be released once a suitable habitat has been re-established. Koalas are one of Australia's iconic species, but are endangered due to habitat loss, and every rescue will help the survival of this species.

WIRES Wildlife Rescue attend a call-out for fire affected 'Kenny' the Koala. (Photos: WIRES)

Searching the vast areas of scorched bush for displaced wildlife is a huge undertaking. Searching on foot takes time, covering only small areas of the millions of hectares of burned bush, and stranded animals can be difficult to spot. Specially trained detection dogs can search much larger areas of bush far more quickly than humans, seeking out wild animals with their powerful sense of smell. Detection dog 'Bear' and his handler have been deployed to southeast Queensland and to some of the hardest hit areas of New South Wales.

'Bear' searches for stranded koalas in burned areas of the Australian bush. (Photo: Fiona Clark Photography).

Bear is a six-year-old boarder collie cross who is thought to have been born in a puppy farm. He was offered to The Detection Dogs for Conservation by a family who bought him from a pet shop, but found he wasn't interested in people and didn't suit the family pet persona. Bear passed his assessment with flying colours, being highly energetic, focused and completely obsessed with his favourite ball (his reward). Bear has no desire to drive prey, which makes him ideal for finding sick, orphaned and injured koalas in the wild.

Bear with his handler searching for stranded koalas. (Photos: Fiona Clark Photography).

Bear remains on standby to assist wildlife search and rescue teams wherever he is needed, thanks to IFAW who sponsors his training and upkeep. These 4-legged heroes can only operate with this funding and donations to wonderful organisations like IFAW are vital for the ongoing training of these incredible dogs.

More about project partners WIRES and IFAW...


WIRES (NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service Inc.) has been rescuing and caring for wildlife for over 30 years and is the largest wildlife rescue organisation in Australia. They operate a response line and receive around 170,000 calls per year from the public; in December alone there were over 20,000 calls to WIRES. Their mission is to actively rehabilitate and preserve Australian wildlife. This is made possible by the dedication of over 2,600 incredible volunteers, who provide a rescue service 365 days a year. Many volunteers have continued rescuing and caring for wildlife during this time of devastation, despite facing threats to their own home.


IFAW (International fund for Animal Welfare) has been providing hands-on assistance to and protection of animals in need since 1969 and now operate across six continents and three oceans. They have rescued more than 275,000 animals in the last 20 years and trained over 3,800 wildlife law-enforcement personnel.

IFAW's Australia-based team has been active on the ground since the bush fires started back in September 2019, working with local partners, like WIRES, to help animals affected by the devastating fires. In the early days of the disaster, they purchased an off-road wildlife rescue vehicle that is being used by their partners Friends of the Koala, and have purchased emergency enclosures for animals including koalas, kangaroos and possums. In addition, they have purchased a disaster trailer for Hunter Wildlife, fire gear for several groups, fuel cards for caregivers and rescuers, medical supplies, the transfer of a water tank and UHF radios and food. As the fires have intensified so has IFAW’s ground support, with their international disaster response team working day and night to focus on crisis management and hands-on support to wildlife care groups across impacted areas. 

IFAW describe the situation on the ground is dire, having seen local wildlife populations decimated. But miraculously, there are survivors and they desperately need our help. Funds donated to IFAW allow them to pay for Bear, the koala detection dog, deployments into fire zones, the sponsorship of a veterinary nurse at Friends of the Koala and a vet at Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary in Tasmania. The fires in Australia may at last be coming to an end, but there is a huge amount of work to do to rehabilitate the survivors and release them back into a suitable habitat. Please use the links in the text (in pink) if you would like to make a donation to one of these wonderful organisations. They need our help now more than ever.

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