Since last summer’s devastating bushfires, many organisations and agencies across Australia have been working to review their activities and prepare for the 2020-21 bushfire season. Wildlife Health Australia has been involved in coordinating a partners’ forum around the national preparedness for emergency responses to wildlife affected by bushfires. 

Priorities have been identified around development of standards and guidelines relevant to wildlife responders. The discussion highlighted that there should be enhanced coordination of emergency responses, development of a nationally accredited training program for wildlife responders and the incorporation of wildlife welfare responses as a standard component of jurisdictions’ response arrangements.

“It was good to gain input from so many individuals and organisations who are involved in wildlife response and bushfires. It is particularly important that wildlife responders understand where they fit in the overall response, what the emergency services priorities are, and that they have the knowledge, skills and training necessary to assist if required.  

“The priorities identified by the forum will not only help shape the activities of participants but also feed into the process by which Australia identifies national preparedness and response priorities for wildlife and wildlife first responders.  We will need to continue to work together to support each other and be ready to assist when required”, said Dr Rupert Woods, Chief Executive Officer of Wildlife Health Australia.

In other activities, the Minderoo Foundation has been supporting several initiatives related to resilient landscapes, wildlife and disaster prediction. In relation to improving post-disaster recovery of wildlife, one focus has been around research at the Australian National University Research School of Biology into understanding the dietary needs of koalas as they are returned to the wild – and whether recovering landscapes will provide sufficient nutrition to sustain them on release, so as to determine the best options for returning koalas to their natural habitat post-disaster.

The Minderoo Foundation is also supporting work to better link new and existing data sources, so that information is accessible and actionable to help drive the widespread adoption of locally appropriate resilience-based land and wildlife management practices.

The 2020 Bushfire Data Quest has been exploring how artificial intelligence primed with data from multiple satellites and local sensor networks, could detect bushfires earlier, predict fire behaviour and help emergency services respond more effectively to protect homes, people and natural capital such as wildlife. The initiatives have highlighted the increasingly important role that technology will play in helping our understanding of landscapes.

Dr Phil Tucak