Mon, Jan 17, 2011 - Page 4 News List

Australian wildlife suffers massive hit from floods

AFP, BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA

Snakes clung to floating debris, crocodiles lurked near homes and sharks swam the streets in the epic floods — but many more animals died in the deluge, experts say.

The devastating floods that smashed through the nation’s northeast would have drowned wombats in their burrows, trapped and starved kangaroos in waterlogged paddocks, and deprived many other creatures of food and habitat.

The rushing waters, which swept away koalas, lizards and frogs and seethed with snakes, could also have a long-lasting impact on the country’s unique wildlife, the Australian Veterinary Association said.

“The immediate thing is that many would have died,” wildlife expert Robert Johnson said. “But the long-term thing is that the ones that would have survived, they don’t have much of a habitat.”

Many — particularly young kangaroos and wallabies — will likely die over the coming months after falling prey to parasites as they deal with the stresses of their resting and feeding places being wiped out, he said.

The dirty brown floodwaters would have also washed away eggs laid by turtles along the Queensland coast and threatened the habitats of frogs — meaning numbers will be profoundly reduced this year.

Torrential rains have also washed the nectar off flowers needed by flying foxes to survive, meaning many will be left to fend for themselves as mothers lack the energy to feed them, Johnson said.

The Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service (WIRES) said baby birds would have been washed from nests and older birds would have difficulty finding food.

In some instances young kangaroos, known as joeys, would have been swept from their mothers’ pouches, while others simply drowned in the pouch, WIRES general manager Leanne Taylor said, adding that wet kangaroos were unable to jump as normal and could suffer swollen limbs.

“Food sources such as grasses will be washed away, increasing the likelihood that we will be seeing starving animals for months to come,” she said.

For weeks the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has been working to evacuate and care for animals in the flood zone, which covers a vast area of Queensland State, opening temporary refuges and finding accommodation for dogs, cats, horses and other creatures.

And with thousands of people evacuated from their homes in Brisbane alone, officials have relented on an original ban on animals and now allow dogs, cats and birds at at least one evacuation center.

However, for those communities west of Brisbane hit by flash flooding last Monday that claimed the lives of at least 16 residents and swept away cars and houses, there was no opportunity to safeguard pets.

Bob Doneley, who runs the animal hospital in the Lockyer Valley town of Gatton, said the pets so far retrieved from hard-hit communities such as Grantham had come in “covered in mud.”

“[They have] surprisingly few injuries, but I suspect anything that was injured didn’t survive,” he said from the center, where he is caring for scores of dogs, cats and birds.

He said most animals brought in eat for at least 15 minutes and then sleep for the rest of the day.

As the military, emergency personnel and volunteers begin the massive clean-up in the wake of the floods, they are also being warned to be aware that venomous or aggressive animals could be sheltering in abandoned homes.

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