‘I’m Not Convinced They Can Handle Another Summer’: Dr Chris Brown Talks Bushfires' Effect On Aussie Wildlife
Experts say the bushfire crisis is "far from over", but the damage already done to native bushland and wildlife populations has been devastating.
Speaking to 10 daily, Dr Chris Brown called the fires “one of the biggest disasters ever to hit our natural world”.
“For the first time in decades the plight of our natural world is front of mind. We’ve learned about the plight of koalas, that was already on its way to being a disaster,” he said.
“All of a sudden we’re invested and we have to use this momentum now to effect change and not just forget about [native animals] until next summer when the same thing happens again. I’m not convinced they can handle another summer like we’ve just had."
They’re already on the edge, and I think another summer pushes them beyond that point.
One of the most visible victims of the fires have been koala populations, with Chris saying that the next 20 years will “essentially decide whether they become extinct or not”.
“The threat of them becoming extinct isn’t just a possibility, on the current course it’s looking like a firm chance. Almost inevitable, to be honest," Brown said.
Saying the irony wasn’t lost on him that celebrities visiting Australia snap a photo cuddling a koala, despite their dwindling numbers, he said, “I think every single time that happens $10,000 should be donated to koala conservation. That’s the appearance fee for that koala.
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“We need to start respecting them more, and we need to start providing them with more rather than them just being a thankless symbol of our country. We need to start appreciating their struggle and their fight,” he said.
“But don’t just appreciate the koala’s challenges, there’s a whole list of other species that are, right now, on the brink as well."
According to the World Wildlife Foundation more than one billion animals have perished in the fires -- koalas, kangaroos, wombats, wallabys, dunnarts and cockatoo populations all extremely affected.
For many people, seeing the effects the fires have had on native wildlife has been heartbreaking, but the vet said there’s no need to feel helpless. Even the smallest acts can make a huge impact.
“First of all, try to appreciate the scale of the challenge that animals are facing,” he said.
“It’s been an absolute catastrophe and will continue to be. Even, fingers crossed, when the fires go out, the problem doesn’t disappear because we’ve lost so many animals and we now have so little habitat.”
Chris also said the simple act of leaving water out can make a crucial difference for animals.
“We’re still experiencing significant drought across the country,” he said.
“Most of our native animals can do without water for quite a while, but when their food is so dried out -- like a koala’s is for example -- they’re not getting the water out of their food.
“They need water from elsewhere, otherwise they have to wander across roads or into people’s backyards and encounter family pets. You can make their lives significantly easier by putting water out.”
Brown advised people in semi-rural or bushland areas to place out low, shallow tubs of water, and said even people in cities could leave out trays for birds.
It’s become a common sight to see people offering bottles of water to injured and dehydrated animals. Koalas drinking from bottles are even being used in advertisements.
“Everyone thinks they love to drink out of a bottle, and they will… because they’re so desperate,” Chris explained.
“The fact that a wild animal that is scared of people is willing to sit there while you pour a bottle of water down its throat is a symbol of just how fragile and close to the end they actually are,” he said.
“They prefer to drink out of a bowl. It doesn't make such good Insta content but the reality is it’s going to be safer for them. Koalas have died because of water going down the wrong way and them inhaling it."
And if you still feel like you haven’t done enough for Aussie wildlife, Chris said the next best thing you can do is donate to charities like WIRES or Wildlife Victoria, or help with conservation of native bushland which these animals call home.
“We need to be more accommodating of animals and realise that it’s their country too. They’re such a strong symbol of our country yet we don’t really respect them by giving them what they need," he said.
'I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here!' will be matching dollar for dollar all the proceeds raised in support of the celebrities chosen charities to the Rural Fire Service and other charities supporting those affected by the bushfires.
For more information about how you can help the communities affected by the fires, click here.