Drought, bushfires and climate change are threatening our wildlife

The long drought, the catastrophic bushfires and shocking rates of land clearing have all taken the most terrible toll on our wildlife in recent times. After years of drought, the bushfires of last summer were unlike anything we have experienced before.

In the bushfires, more than a billion animals lost their lives and countless more suffered unbearable injuries

With your help, we made sure that we were there helping wildlife while the fires still raged in partnership with wildlife carers around the country.

And as we connected to wildlife carers throughout the crisis we learned more about their struggles. Not just the already overwhelming day-to-day things but also the need to make changes, to adapt to our changed climate and to build resilience if we are to protect wildlife in the future.


Wildlife carers adapting to a changing climate

Wildlife carers know better than anyone how much our wildlife is suffering and they are on the front lines. Working day and night, their minds and bodies constantly on the task of saving as many animals as they can.  Wildlife carers like Donna and Phil at Sleepy Burrows.

Sleepy Burrows – rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing wombats

Donna and Phil at Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary in Gundaroo, NSW, have been members of our Wildlife Land Trust Program for more than ten years and they do incredible work rescuing, rehabilitating and releasing wombats.

At Sleepy Burrows, they care for wombats with a variety of injuries resulting from the bushfires, the drought, road accidents as well as animal cruelty.

Accommodating up to 70 wombats at any one time, the sanctuary looks after wombats from young to old, in a range of indoor and outdoor enclosures.

Clockwise: Donna, Phil and family at Sleepy Burrows; A wombat named Barry catches some sun from his enclosure; A view of some of the 20 outdoor enclosures; Donna in an enclosure.

Meet Andi, the wombat

Andi was found on the fire grounds near Canberra, with her mother, who had suffered a broken back. Her mother had to be sent for specialist vet treatment but sadly didn’t make it so little Andi was orphaned and needed care at Sleepy Burrows. Donna now plays the role of ‘Mama’ by giving her regular bottles of milk as well as that extra attention that every toddler longs for.

Andi sharing a special moment with Donna.

Now four months old, 1 kg and thriving, Andi has been nursed back to health and while she still enjoys ‘Mama’s’ cuddles she is also learning to walk and will soon be enjoying play sessions with other wombats.

Many other wombats were rescued from the bushfires including the appropriately named Charrey and Blaze who have had their injuries treated and been lovingly nursed back to health. Without the tireless dedication of Donna and Phil, Andi, Charrey and Blaze would not have survived the bushfires.

Meet some of the other wombats in care at Sleepy Burrows:

Blaze - Blaze was the first victim of last summer’s bushfires to come into Donna and Phil’s care. He tragically lost his mum to the flames and was found with severe burns outside his burrow. Blaze’s burns needed medical treatment several times a day for weeks. With pain relief and lots of loving, attentive care, Blaze’s future is looking bright.

Luna - Having experienced the harsh reality of drought, Luna came to Sleepy Burrows underweight and stressed by the lack of food and water. After many months of care, Luna is putting on weight and her health is improving. Each day she enjoys a play session outside her enclosure with Donna and the team. There is still a long way to go in her rehabilitation, but the goal is to release her back into the wild.

Shivers - Shivers got her name because she shook in uncontrollable fear and shock for an entire week after being rescued by Donna and Phil. Shivers’ mother had been shot while she was still in her pouch and upon noticing Shivers wriggling, the killers kicked her mother’s body repeatedly and fled the scene. You wouldn’t know the trauma she has been through if you met this gorgeous and playful wombat now.

HSI is helping Sleepy Burrows to adapt to a changing climate

In response to the drought and bushfire crisis, HSI provided support for the immediate needs of water and food for bushfire and drought affected animals, as well as with irrigation infrastructure for adaptation to the changing climate.

"Water is life, plain and simple ... to see these animals drink after weeks of no water—no words can explain the feeling you get honestly. THANK YOU." Donna Stepan

HSI's Head of Programs Evan Quartermain, watering an enclosure for Tora; Donna preparing sweet potatoes for mealtime.

Sleepy Burrows also needed a trench from their dam and water tanks to drought and fire-proof the wombat rehabilitation to make certain they could keep doing the incredible work they do and help our precious wombats today and well into the future.

Phil and Evan from HSI inspecting the new irrigation trench (left) and the rainwater tanks (right) which will feed water from the dam to the wombat enclosures.

"I don't know what to say ... I truly don't. To be able to finish these projects for the wombats is a life dream." Donna Stepan

With your help, we can ensure wildlife gets all the protection they deserve

Donna and Phil’s work at Sleepy Burrows Wombat Sanctuary is just one example of the large infrastructure projects our incredible wildlife carers need to help them continue to save lives.

These are some of the most selfless people I have ever met—they give everything to these animals and I am determined to make sure that we can help as many of them as possible. And in so doing, give our wildlife a fighting chance, today and for generations to come.  

Photos: Jen Osborne