Animal carers Julie and Gary Willis appeal to public to help Wytaliba's wildlife

Glen Innes RSPCA vice-president Nora Sheridan and wildlife carers Julie and Gary Willis holding orphaned kangaroos and wallabies. Picture: Nicholas Fuller
Glen Innes RSPCA vice-president Nora Sheridan and wildlife carers Julie and Gary Willis holding orphaned kangaroos and wallabies. Picture: Nicholas Fuller

The timid head of a baby wallaby pokes out of a cloth bag held by Julie Willis. Only two months old, he has already lost his mother. She had to be euthanised after the Wytaliba fire.

Her husband Gary nurses an Eastern grey joey which came in the night before. Its mother was hit by a car while trying to find food in the ravaged land.

These are some of the animals the Willises, long-term Wytaliba residents and members of the Northern Tablelands Wildlife Carers, have rescued after the fires.

Some are orphans of the firestorm; other animals were burned or injured. Some they have had to put down.

"We would like to initiate a fundraiser in the community to raise money for this very worthwhile cause," RSPCA vice-president Nora Sheridan said.

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Fifteen babies and a badly burnt possum shelter outside the house, while Gary goes out twice a day to put food and water out for the wild ones.

That costs the Willises about $500 a week. They and other volunteer wildlife carers across New England pay for everything themselves.

The RSPCA has donated hay bales and food, but cannot do this for any extended period.

Donations to the Wildlife Carers can be made through the organisation's bank account (details at end of article) or through the Glen Innes RSPCA branch.

The Wildlife Carers have members across New England from Uralla to Tenterfield. They spend an estimated thousands of dollars a week to look after animals, relying on donations or fund-raising raffles.

"We're spread pretty thin," Julie said. "There's not a lot of us."

How the fires devastated Wytaliba

Wytaliba was set up as a registered wildlife reserve; for years, the Willises have nursed injured creatures and released them back into the bush.

"Now," Gary said, "a once prolific wildlife collection is virtually nil."

About 80 per cent of the animals, he estimates, are gone.

Some of the grey and red-necked wallabies were fast enough to escape the flames.

But most of the pretty-faced (whiptail) wallabies are lost. There are hardly any wallaroos. Not many of the possums made it through. All the little gliders and anything living in the trees are gone. So are the insects and the snakes.

The amount of dead and blackened kangaroos and possums by the side of the road after the fire was horrific, Julie said. Farmers, too, lost horses, pigs, alpacas, and goats.

About the only insects left, the Willises said, are cicadas, so far underground they escaped the heat; now they're emerging, at least they provide some food for the surviving birds. Microbats, too, are returning after the rain.

Tree loppers have chopped down 50-year-old trees that presented a fire hazard on the hillsides. But it's no good for the surviving animals.

"Whatever's left up there now - greater gliders and nesting birds - are losing their homes," Julie said.

"To not see wildlife everywhere is heartbreaking."

What can the public do?

If you live in a bush area, Julie and Gary say, put water out for the roos, and any sort of feed. The Willises use macropod pellets - which some locals have bought and donated - or a mixture of chaff, horse mix, rolled oats, lucerne (alfalfa), and sweet potato.

Slow down when driving. The first place that greens up after rain is the culverts by the side of the road - so wildlife might be at risk when feeding.

If you find injured wildlife by the side of the road, call the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (6739 0700 in Glen Innes), a local vet, or the WIRES Wildlife Rescue Organisation (1300 094 737). The Glen Innes branches all know the Willises; branches in other towns can contact local wildlife carers.

Don't try to deal with the injured animal yourself; they're dangerous. "An adult kangaroo can hurt you because they're scared," Gary said. "Even with a broken foot, they'll try to kick you." He has a dislocated finger and broken rib from trying to rescue one - and he's been looking after animals for years.

If you can't stay with the animal until an expert arrives, leave a marker (an old shirt around a tree, for instance) to help people spot it.

If you hit an animal, it might be injured even if it hops away. It could die of shock, or blowflies could infect the wound.

If you come across a dead animal, check the mother's pouch to make sure there's not a baby inside. When a mother is hit, babies will stay with the body for a couple of days. If there is a baby, wrap it up in a towel or pillow slip. Keep it somewhere quiet and dark; don't let children or animals near, because they could stress the baby.

Northern Tablelands Wildlife Carers - Greater Bank. BSB 637000; A/C 718459699. For tax-deductible receipts: ntwcsecretary@gmail.com and at selected local businesses.