Wildlife carer James Fitzgerald has received a $5000 grant to help rebuild his animal sanctuary after it was destroyed in the summer bushfires.
James lost his home and 16-years of work when the Good Good Fire tore through his Two Thumbs Wildlife Sanctuary at Peak View.
Snowy Monaro Regional Council has passed on the $5,000 grant to help James rebuild his sanctuary.
The grant is part of the Disaster Recovery Funding program that has made available $20,000 to assist the ongoing efforts of wildlife carers across the Snowy Monaro.
Mayor Peter Beer joined Deputy Mayor Lynley Miners, the Local Bushfire Recovery Team and volunteers involved in the region’s bushfire recovery journey to present James with his grant.
“This grant is a great contribution and it will help us with rehabilitating the koalas,” James said.
In the months since the bushfires, James has been working hard, alongside a dedicated team, to rescue injured koalas and rebuild his sanctuary.
“On January 23 the fire totally destroyed my sanctuary and burnt down my house and shed. I sort of lost everything,” James said.
“There was a lot of work to be done and lot of koalas and animals that needed rescuing.”
One of the koalas being cared for at the sanctuary is Paul. Paul is named in honour of First Officer Paul Hudson who died when the Hercules C-130 air tanker crashed after dropping fire retardant on James’ property.
James has also named two rescued koalas in recognition of firefighters Captain Ian McBeth and Flight Engineer Rick DeMorgan who were killed in the crash.
“It is a terrible tragedy. I’ve met the families of the pilots and they have met these koalas,” James said.
“Paul had second degree burns and for a while it looked like he might not make it. He is one of the success stories, some good to come out of what is otherwise a terrible tragedy.”
James has received support from the University of the Sunshine Coast who sent their animal detection dog, Bear, to help locate injured koalas in the area surrounding the Peak View property.
Bear is part of the university’s dogs for conservation program and is highly trained to find koala fur.
“Bear is truly amazing. He picks up on the wind and finds the where the koala is and sits under the tree it’s in,” James said.
“Bear has really helped us find those koalas who needed help.”
The rescued koalas are cared for in three new animal enclosures at the sanctuary. James has used most of his own funds to build the enclosures and with two more planned, the rebuild will cost around $300,000.
James and the Australian National University have worked closely over the years and since the bushfires, researchers have been studying how rehabilitated koalas released into the wild are integrating back into the resident koala population.
“We want to know how those resident koalas are using the brunt landscape. Are they relying on the little patches of the intact areas that weren’t burnt or are they are happy to move through the brunt areas,” ANU researcher Dr Karen Ford said.
“This research is important to tell us how we should respond to fires in the future. Do we need to support koalas through the early times after fires when there is little regrowth available or can they survive quite happily on what’s not burnt.”