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As our nation comes to terms with the tremendous loss following the bushfires that ravaged the country for months, we are experiencing emotions that are part of the grieving process—sadness and anger—but also now hope.
Hope that we can learn from these fires. Hope that we can come together as a community, set aside our differences and work to find solutions that will protect our homes, our livelihoods and importantly our precious nature into the future.
Our work will continue to be critical as we move from response to recovery.
We started to offer support to our Wildlife Land Trust members and all wildlife carers last year and that support will continue as long as it is needed. We need to make sure that wildlife carers have the infrastructure they need to care for animals in the face of natural disasters that sadly are going to be an increasing part of life for us going forward.
We deployed with our international disaster response experts to Kangaroo Island in early January conducting search and rescue for animals injured in the fires. Our team rescued more than 80 koalas as well as several kangaroos, wallabies, possums and even an echidna and a bandicoot.
We then evolved our efforts to rescue animals that were suffering from a secondary starvation event with little to no food left in the burnt out habitat. Many of these animals were able to be given a quick vet check and then relocated almost immediately to areas where they could thrive in the wild. That work too is now drawing to a close.
At this point, our attention must turn to lessons learned from the fires. We know that there was incredible goodwill from Australians and people around the world and extraordinary acts of kindness to animals. But can we improve on the coordination of response efforts and make certain that help gets where it is most needed faster?
Can we convince our governments to urgently increase protections for our most vulnerable species—preventing any further destruction of their habitat and investing the resources needed to help populations rebuild?
Are we allowing science to inform our decisions and are we prepared to take the brave steps necessary to halt the destruction of our natural places and to actually value our wildlife and wild places more than continuing to seek short term profits that renders nature even more vulnerable?
I have walked through the ashes and stepped over the corpses of hundreds of animals. I have smelt the death in the air with each and every step. I have wondered if we can emerge from these fires at all let alone if we can emerge stronger.
And I have had my hope restored with each life that we were able to return to the wild; with the shoots growing from the burnt stumps of trees’ and with the people and communities that have held each other tight and pulled each other up.
I am more determined than ever to fight for our wildlife and to work together with our traditional allies and those that have not always been on our side. Because these fires have shown us what loss is. And it is terrible. We can and we must rise up—together.
Watch the video below to see what our time on Kangaroo Island was like:
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Erica Martin is the CEO of Humane Society International Australia. Erica joined HSI in 2017 after working for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) as the Vice President of Global Communications based in the USA. Prior to that she was the Regional Director for IFAW Asia Pacific, based in Sydney. Erica also has a wealth of experience in government relations having previously worked for the Australian Federal Government as Director of Communications for the then Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts in Canberra.