Jan. 16 (UPI) -- Parts of Australia are finally getting some much-needed rain to help crews extinguish a number of wildfires that have charred millions of acres and killed more than two dozen people -- plus more than a billion animals.
Officials have said at least 28 people have died since the fires began last September, and rescue crews are trying to mitigate the toll for both humans and wildlife. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), for example, has stationed a rescue operation on Kangaroo Island, a 1,700-square mile island off the South Australia coast. Kangaroo Island is also home to threatened bird and penguin species.
The Primary Industries and Regions SA, a government agency, is also helping by supporting recovery activities and helping make animal assessments. PIRSA has aided the Australian Defense Force to transport hay to local farmers.
"Animal health staff will continue working with local veterinary clinics to provide immediate assessment and advice to producers and animal owners," said State Controller for Agriculture and Animal Services Professor Mehdi Doroudi. "This includes the inspection and assessment of injured livestock and their welfare, treatment of surviving animals, and humane destruction to relieve suffering."
The RSPCA said it first began deploying staff to the island last month after the wildfires -- or bushfires, as they're called in Australia -- really began harming wildlife and their habitats.
"For animals that have survived these bushfires, many will require extensive veterinary care for months and provisions are also needed to help animals survive the massive loss of habitat and food sources," RSPCA South Australia Chief Inspector Andrea Lewis said. "These tragedies have touched hearts both nationally and internationally."
Before the fires, Kangaroo Island was home to about 25,000 koalas and tens of thousands of livestock. As of last weekend, more than 32,000 of the farm animals there have died due to fire -- including 32,000 sheep, 500 cattle, 65 alpacas and a few horses.
Army troops have been aiding the RSPCA, it said, which included providing a vehicle to transport four injured koalas to the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park. The park, which survived a major fire threat last week, has become the main triage center.
The RSPCA team has used a burned-out wildlife sanctuary on the island as a makeshift triage center and a shed as an animal treatment center.
"We set up a table, a drop and everything we needed to triage and sedate animals and take a look at their wounds," said RSPCA South Australia veterinarian Dr. Gale Kothari. "A lot of them had burns to all four feet, so we provided pain relief and bandaged them."
In the absence of proper veterinary clinic equipment, Kothari said, crews have been forced to improvise and make use of whatever items are available on Kangaroo Island.
"Every koala that gets an anesthetic is given sub-cutaneous fluids from a drip and in absence of a drip pump or a drip stand we used a ladder and managed to get a rope over one of the beams on the roof of the shed. We used that to tie our drip bag to, which worked really well."
RSPCA worker Stuart Timmins and his brother Craig, a volunteer, are visiting fire-scarred areas on the island with a van of pet care supplies.
"We're like a travelling pet supplies shop," Stuart Timmins said. "Except everything we have on board is free for those pet owners who've been affected by these bushfires."
Lewis said the animal rescue team will remain on the island for as long as necessary to help.
"The valuable habitat that has been destroyed is beyond comprehension," she said. "It will be a long road to recovery for the community on Kangaroo Island, and like many groups RSPCA SA is keen to do all it can for those who have been affected."
The government has begun aerial food drops to save endangered wallabies in New South Wales, where more than 12 million acres have been decimated by fire so far.