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Should I be feeding wildlife affected by bushfires?

Under normal circumstances, it is not recommended to feed wildlife as this can make them sick, get them too used to humans and change their natural behaviours. However, the recent bushfires and droughts have created unprecedented conditions for wildlife which have threatened and continue to threaten the survival and welfare of many animals. In these circumstances, giving water and temporary feeding until our natural habitats recover may be important to help these animals.

Wildlife have very specific nutritional requirements which are difficult to meet without specifically-formulated food. Inappropriate food can make them very sick. Feeding also causes them to be dependent on humans, and brings them closer to roads and pets which can lead to road deaths and predation by pets [1]. WIRES has a detailed guide on how to enjoy interacting with wildlife without feeding them.

Why are these conditions different?

Australian habitats are normally designed to recover from bushfires. However, the scale of the recent 2019/20 bushfires and prolonged droughts has been beyond what our habitats can normally handle. Large numbers of animals have been killed and large areas of natural habitats have been destroyed. It is unclear how long our bush will take to regenerate and, in the meantime, many wild animals will be struggling to find food and water. This is why many wildlife specialists are recommending that providing supplementary water and feed may be appropriate at this time [2, 3].

What can I do to help?

Giving water

Providing water to wildlife is recommended at this time. Make sure you follow the following guidelines [2, 3]:

  • Place several containers of water in covered, shady areas away from humans and pets and at least 50m from public roads.
  • Place the water containers at different heights, including in trees, to help animals avoid predators, and space them at least 500m from each other.
  • Place the water containers on a stable surface to avoid spilling.
  • Try to ensure the water container can easily be cleaned and disinfected; consider having two containers which you can switch between so that you can replace one container with another while the other is disinfected and dried:
    • If dishwasher-safe, place the container in the dishwasher;
    • If not, clean the container with dishwashing liquid and soak in a solution of one cup of domestic-strength bleach added to four litres of water, then rinse thoroughly and dry.
    • Do not use metal containers which get too hot.
    • Always wash your hands before and after cleaning and drying food and water containers.
  • Change the water daily, if possible, to keep it clean. However, giving access to water at this time takes priority over ensuring the water is changed daily. You can also make a simple self-refilling water station, or smaller water stations, which will need cleaning and refilling every few days.
  • Do not add any additives in the water as this can cause disease.
  • Make sure the container is shallow to avoid small animals from drowning, and place sticks and twigs inside to help them climb out if they fall in.

Feeding

In natural parks or reserves

Please note you need permission from local authorities to feed wildlife in natural parks or reserves. There are likely already wildlife groups or local authorities working to support wildlife in these areas. In fact, there may be a regulated feeding program already in place, in particular for threatened or endangered species, during natural disasters. Do not offer food specifically for threatened species without approval from your government wildlife agency [4].

If you have any concerns about wildlife in a national park or reserve, call your local council to share your concerns.

Local council contact details:

JurisdictionLink to access council details
ACThttps://www.accesscanberra.act.gov.au/app/answers/detail/a_id/246/~/act-community-councils
NSWhttps://www.olg.nsw.gov.au/find-my-council
NThttps://nt.gov.au/community/local-councils-remote-communities-and-homelands/find-your-council
QLDhttps://www.dlgrma.qld.gov.au/contact-us-dlgrma/regional-contacts.html
SAhttps://www.ecsa.sa.gov.au/council-links
TAShttp://www.dpac.tas.gov.au/divisions/local_government/local_government_directory
VIChttps://knowyourcouncil.vic.gov.au/councils
WAhttps://www.mycouncil.wa.gov.au

On land in your area

Make sure you have permission from the land owner before you act. Again, check with local council and wildlife groups if these animals are already being cared for. If not, follow the guidelines in the section below.

On your own property

If your property is on the front-line of the bushfire-affected area and there is no or little vegetation left for wildlife in your area [2, 3, 4]:

  1. Identify which species are likely to be in your area.
  2. Call your local wildlife group for advice on how to support them. Find contact details according to your state.
  3. General feeding guidelines according to species have been provided by NSW’s Department of Planning, Industry and Environment. Make sure you follow these carefully as different wild animals have very specific feeding requirements.
  4. Koalas have area-specific preferences for eucalyptus species, and it is best to allow wildlife carers to provide food for them, if possible. Specific guidelines are available on helping koalas in emergencies. You will need permission from the landowner or local authorities to collect eucalyptus foliage [5].
  5. Make sure you remove uneaten food and clean and disinfect food containers daily, if possible. Regularly move locations where food is offered to reduce disease and predator risk.
  6. Gradually reduce the amount of food you provide as vegetation starts to grow back to get wildlife used to foraging again.

Other things to consider

  • Please see advice from Wildlife Health Australia about how to minimise risks when supplying water and food to free-living wildlife after natural disasters. Risks include misadventure, overfeeding, malnutrition, predation, spread of weeds, increase in feral animal numbers and risks to human and animal health [4].
  • As well as food and water, wildlife such as birds, possums and gliders will also need a place to shelter, as many trees they usually use have been destroyed [3]. Learn how to create wildlife nest boxes here.
  • If you have a pool on your property, wild animals may be tempted to use it as a source of drinking water. This makes them at risk of falling in and drowning, so, make sure you:
    • discourage animals from accessing your pool by fencing it appropriately;
    • trim branches that hang over your pool to avoid koalas falling in;
    • keep your pool covered when not in use; and
    • provide animals who fall in a means to climb out, such as threading a rope through a pool noodle and attaching this to the side of your pool.
  • To provide food long-term for wildlife, start replanting plant species native to the area. The more complexity of heights and species of plants available, the more species of wildlife this will help support [3]. You can find more information on this from BirdLife Australia.
  • Keep your dogs and cats away from areas affected by bushfires, as they may prey on wildlife that have been weakened in the fire [2].
  • If you see any visibly-injured wildlife, contact a wildlife carer for help. Do not approach any flying foxes as these can transmit dangerous diseases to humans [2].

State-specific information

Find links to recommendations specific to your state, where these are available:

New South Wales

NSW DPIE ‘Helping wildlife in emergencies’

NSW government: “Helping koalas in emergencies”

Victoria

Wildlife Victoria ‘How you can help wildlife in the bushfires’

Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) Victoria ‘Helping wildlife affected by bushfires’

Zoos Victoria

Tasmania

Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment

Queensland

QLD Department of Environment and Science ‘Feeding wildlife the no-nuisance way’

Western Australia

WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions ‘Bushfires and wildlife advice’

South Australia

SA Department for Environment and Water ‘helping SA wildlife affected by bushfires’

References

[1] Orams MB (2002) Feeding wildlife as a tourism attraction: a review of issues and impacts. Tourism Management 23: 281-293.

[2] NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (2020) Helping wildlife in emergencies (accessed 23 Jan 2020)

[3] Birdlife Australia (2020) After the Fire (accessed 23 Jan 2020)

[4] Wildlife Health Australia (29 January 2020) Suitable foods for short-term provision to Australian native wildlife during natural disasters (accessed 23 Jan 2020)

[5] NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (January 2020) Helping koalas in emergencies (accessed 28 Jan 2020)

Also Read

Updated on January 31, 2020
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https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/should-i-be-feeding-wildlife-affected-by-bushfires/

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