Boost for post bushfire koala recovery

 

As a raging bushfire threatened his property in the Snowy Mountains, James Fitzgerald was searching for a distressed koala.

The flames eventually engulfed Mr Fitzgerald's Two Thumbs Koala Sanctuary, three residences, a bunkhouse and the koalas and goannas he was rehabilitating.

Mr Fitzgerald would later learn three American pilots died when their plane crashed near Cooma having doused his home in fire retardant.

Rebuilding since this fateful day has been arduous.

Mr Fitzgerald has hosted wildlife researchers at the sanctuary since 2012 but now with no electricity, their studies are stunted by below zero temperatures.

Koalas returned to bushfire habitat near Two Thumbs Koala Sanctuary In Peak View on June 27. Picture: James Walsh/The Australian National University
Koalas returned to bushfire habitat near Two Thumbs Koala Sanctuary In Peak View on June 27. Picture: James Walsh/The Australian National University

His tireless work will be rewarded at Friday's Daily Telegraph Bush Summit when he will be given $21,000 to fund solar electricity for staff housing and amenities for scientists and volunteers to assist with research aimed at ensuring survival of koala populations in this region.

He is one of three worth recipients of News Corp's Bushfire Fund which has so far given $2.4 million to aid bushfire recovery.

The Fly Program has been awarded $42,900 to deliver its Monaro Men in Flight program; a one day intensive catered mental health retreat, including fly fishing and mindfulness activities followed by a seven-week residential mental health program.

 

Dr Jelaena Vakcevic, Dr Karen Ford and Murraya Lane continuing koala research near Two Thumbs after devastating fires. Picture: James Walsh at The Australian National University
Dr Jelaena Vakcevic, Dr Karen Ford and Murraya Lane continuing koala research near Two Thumbs after devastating fires. Picture: James Walsh at The Australian National University

An additional $20,000 will go to The Monaro Family Support Service to fund a series of community driven gatherings as part of their Women Community Connect program.

"The Daily Telegraph's team of reporters and photographers were on the frontline across the state to chronicle the unfolding bushfire disaster," said editor Ben English.

"We saw first hand their devastating impact on districts such the Snowy-Monaro. That's why I'm delighted that, through the News Corp Bushfire Fund, we can give something back through these three grants. We've selected them because the cash will make a meaningful difference to Cooma and its surrounding communities.''

Detection Dogs for Conservation co-leader Dr Romane Cristescu with Bear. Picture: News Regional Media
Detection Dogs for Conservation co-leader Dr Romane Cristescu with Bear. Picture: News Regional Media

With the help of Dr Romane Cristescu and her koala detection dog, Bear, Mr Fitzgerald has rescued 41 koalas since the fires, allowing researchers to fit GPS trackers before they are re-released and their behaviours studied to aid population recovery.

"Since the bushfires, researchers have still been coming to study how koalas survive post bushfires and how best to help them," Mr Fitzgerald said.

Mental health is an important factor in this recovery period and ongoing pandemic.

"The challenges facing regional Australia affect all Australians," News Corp Australia community ambassador Penny Fowler said. "We are proud to continue our support of bushfire-affected areas like the Snowy-Monaro region with donations that make a real and lasting impact on community resilience, mental wellness and recovery, and will continue to advocate for the voice of rural and regional Australia."

Gareth Harveston in Main Range, Kosciuszko Park, taking part in the Monaro Men In Flight program. Picture: Matt Tripet
Gareth Harveston in Main Range, Kosciuszko Park, taking part in the Monaro Men In Flight program. Picture: Matt Tripet

Fly Program CEO Matthew Tripet said men who have been exposed to the bushfire crisis early in the year and now the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are experiencing a huge amount of stress.

"We have a program that's been evaluated by the University of Canberra that encourages men to get outdoors on a weekly basis and works with them to connect with other men, family and their communities," Mr Tripet said.

The Monaro Family Support Service manager Pauline Cook said they would work with various communities to tailor events to ensure their individual needs are met.

"People in these small communities are really fatigued," Ms Cook said. "Just the process of applying for grants after bushfire, drought and COVID, it's all exhausting. We will run a program of small community events which will reflect the recovery goals of women in each small community."

Originally published as Boost for post bushfire koala recovery



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