Faith, wildlife recovery and COVID
After the bushfires, much was said about wildlife. We were all very concerned and touched about all the animals that died, were injured, or whose ecosystems were destroyed entirely. Insights spoke to Rev. Leigh Gardiner, a Uniting Church minister who is also a WIRES volunteer. We discussed how she faced the Blue Mountains bushfires, how COVID-19 has affected her work as an animal rescuer and how she envisions the future of WIRES and their programs.
Rev. Gardiner joined the Central West branch in 2014 because she felt helpless with all the macropods and turtles by the side of the road and wanted to be able to offer some help to those still alive. In the Blue Mountains, she is principally caring for birds but hopes to find time to do the training for some other species in the future.
“I believe that God loves every part of God’s creation, and that is the only reason I need to care for creatures. But there are many other reasons including the 5 Marks of Mission. The 5th one states: “To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth” so to care for wildlife as well as other aspects of Creation Care is also part of participating in God’s mission. ”Rev. Leigh Gardiner
Rev. Gardiner explained that with the pandemic, attention and focus had been diverted. People have also witnessed some rain and some images of new shoots growing from trees. Still, a sustainable habitat does not regrow quickly, and it is still a huge concern.
“I’m a WIRES volunteer and involved with the rescue of native animals and care all year round. However, in response to the fires up in the Blue Mountains, I did go out to rescue, but in reality, we found very few animals injured and alive. So it became more important to set up feed/water stations to support anything that did survive, and we couldn’t find. In those initial days, we did see quite a few injured macropods (kangaroos/wallabies), and they all needed darting and then specialised care. After that, I was part of a group, working with other community volunteers, setting up those feed/water stations from Blackheath across to Bell, Mt Wilson, Mt Tomah etc.
“The fires were so hot that most wildlife, including birds, were simply incinerated. Very little escaped because of the heat and widespread nature of the fires and the backburning. We were all so devastated. The silence was inescapable. I now have a new understanding and experience of deathly silence,” said Leigh.
WIRES was endowed with many donations at the time, which was fantastic, and they have been active in distributing funds to other wildlife groups and shelters around the state, and interstate. As part of the bushfire recovery, WIRES has already been able to fund a number of programs including donating over $2M to non-WIRES groups and individuals around Australia caring for drought and fire-affected native animals and a $1M partnership with Landcare to fund individual and group community wildlife projects. WIRES has also provided emergency funding to ARC to assist those landowners and groups who are not registered wildlife carers. They also have a number of other major bushfire recovery projects about to be announced shortly and will continue to invest in and support programs that provide the best short and/or longterm outcomes for our native wildlife.
During the crisis, Men’s sheds, individuals and other groups made boxes for possums, birds, and gliders. Wildlife carers, whether WIRES or other endorsed groups, pay for food for the animals in care themselves. The donated funds have helped carers to subsidise the specialised formulas required for many species. However, there are groups such as in the Shoalhaven who are still in great need of donated fruit and vegetables to continue to support the animals they have in care.
Vets are vital in supporting WIRES mission, and the pandemic has meant that additional care and restrictions were implemented to move animals to and from Vet clinics. According to Rev. Gardiner, many vets are currently experiencing mental health difficulties, and there is a shortage of professionals, which puts more pressure on the doctors on duty. That’s why she strongly suggest that we all pay more attention to them, support them, and somehow highlight our appreciation for their commitment and hard work.
Rev. Gardiner also explained that she has continued to volunteer during the lockdown because they were given permission to travel for the care of animals. Still, for her, it has been about taking care of non-bushfire related wildlife. It is mostly about wildlife who come into care because of collisions -cars, birds flying into windows or clear pool fences-caught by cats or dogs, or other illnesses.
WIRES volunteers do care for injured and sick wildlife all year round; now it is more important than ever with the amount of habitat destruction we have seen.Rev. Leigh Gardiner
Moving forward, Rev. Gardiner thinks WIRES will have to reinvent some of their strategies. There should be more opportunities for online training, even though people will still need face-to-face instruction. After the fires, there were many people interested in becoming volunteers but have been unable to do the training necessary. Hopefully, training programs can resume soon with social distancing requirements in place.
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