Saving the Fires's Smallest Victims

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JANUARY 21, 2002 | NO. 2

Since Jan. 4, home for the greater glider possum in the care of Corinne Bushby has been a large plastic crate in her rescuer's spare bedroom. Found singed and stunned on a burned-out property in Oakdale, south of Sydney, the young survivor was brought to the Sydney Metropolitan Wildlife Service volunteer's home in nearby Buxton. Bushby says the glider is recovering well: "She growled at me the other day while I was applying burn cream to her paws. That's a very good sign. People think injured possums are so friendly because they just sit there, but that's because they're suffering shock."

Other animals were not so lucky. While no human lives have been lost in the New South Wales bushfires that began on Christmas Eve, tens of thousands of mammals, birds and reptiles are believed to have perished in the infernos that engulfed 300,000 hectares of national parks and reserves. Countless others escaped the flames only to be hit by cars or killed by backyard predators, starvation or dehydration. Of the hundreds that found their way into the care of volunteers, many were so badly injured they had to be destroyed.

It may be many months before habitats are green enough for the survivors to return, but, says N.S.W. National Parks and Wildlife Service head Brian Gilligan, "already, shoots are emerging from the blackened soil and honeyeater birds are singing again." Vulnerable creatures like the greater glider will need at least a decade without fires to recover their numbers. It's a sobering thought that N.S.W.'s last severe bushfires occurred only eight years ago. -Leora Moldofsky


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