11 Feb 2009

Fears 1m native animals have perished in fires

6:22 pm on 11 February 2009

More than a million native animals may have perished in bushfires in the Australian state of Victoria, a wildlife expert says.

The massive effort to rescue animals caught in the fire has begun with triage centres set up to assess injured wildlife at staging posts at Kilmore, Whittlesea and Redesdale near Bendigo.

The animals are then being treated and assessed by vets at nearby shelters, who make the agonising decision about which ones need to be euthanased.

Those animals still able to may wait several weeks before walking out of fire-affected forest, Gayle Chappell from the Hepburn Wildlife Shelter said.

Ms Chappell is among those working to rescue the animals and says the extent of the devastation may never be known.

"It (the animal death toll) will be in the hundreds of thousands, possibly millions," Ms Chappell said.

"We are not just talking the animals we are familiar with, there are gliders and all sorts of possums, antechinus (a mouse-like marsupial), bandicoots, birds - there is so much wildlife."

The fires also destroyed four wildlife shelters, including Stella Reid's Wildhaven shelter at Kinglake.

Ms Chappell said Ms Reid escaped with her life, but the animals were not so lucky.