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Kangaroo - The 100 Days Project: Day 6 [95]

Coming Through Fire

Orphans Cooper and Merlot. Photo credit: Stella Reid, Wildhaven Wildlife Shelter

Here in the mountains we are told it’s not a question of if our houses are threatened by bushfire, but when. And bushfires, because they are just that, tend to threaten the lives of non-human animals far more than the lives of human ones. While a great many bushfires have ‘natural’ causes – up here we have some amazing electrical storms – you can rest assured that a great many are caused by humans.

Such was the case in 2013, when ill-advised exercise on an army weapons testing range on a hot and windy day outside the town of Lithgow, directly to the west, started what has come to be called the State Mine Fire – better call it the Great Mine Fire – which moved swiftly eastward up into the mountains and in the next month burned its way through 58,000 hectares of World Heritage forest.

When the fire was at last declared extinguished, and while lamenting the destruction of property, a local newspaper vaunted the fact that ‘not one life’ had been lost. In truth we must assume that millions of lives had been lost, an inestimable number of them those of wallabies, kangaroos and other macropods. True, kangaroos and wallabies have some chance of outrunning a fire, but these mountains are full of cliffs, dead-end valleys, gullies there is no escaping from, intimate as one’s knowledge of one’s own home range might be. Although these mountains are only fifty kilometres from Sydney Cove, it took the first white settlers twenty-five years to find their way across their labyrinthine ridges and perilous descents. Safe to assume, then, that if, on its final fringes, some kangaroos and wallabies did manage to escape the Great Mine Fire, a very large number couldn’t.

Kangaroos, wallabies, birds (so many incinerated in flight!), reptile, and ‘livestock’ – horses, sheep, cattle, trapped by fences. Where are the laments for them?

The photograph above is not from the Great Mine Fire. It is, instead, of kangaroo joeys, named Cooper and Merlot, hugging one another in relief and comfort having come through, alive, the Black Saturday fires in the state of Victoria in 2009, fires which destroyed the sanctuary in which they lived (and still do: it has been rebuilt), along with most of its animal residents.

I’m planning on telling their story later. I just wanted you to make their acquaintance.

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