The fires down under: A veterinary update

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The cost of the ongoing Australian wildfires in terms of lives lost keeps climbing: At least 32 people and more than a billion animals, so far.

The numbers are horrifying, and they keep getting worse. In addition to the tragic loss of life, the fires have burned at least 26 million acres of land and unleashed an estimated 900 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

And the emotional and physical toll on veterinarians struggling to care for the animals affected by the wildfires continues to mount. Tara Cashman, BVSc, DipVetClinStud, MANZCVS (Dentistry), owner of a practice in Batemans Bay, 215 miles south of Sydney, sent NEWStat a brief email that spoke volumes: “I have limited access to the internet primarily due to the fact that my home and clinic are still without power,” she wrote. “Fatigue is a big challenge and there isn’t much time or headspace for me to do much thinking!”

The fires range in area from small blazes—isolated buildings or parts of neighborhoods—to massive infernos that occupy many acres of land. Some start and are contained in a matter of days, but the biggest blazes have been burning for months

“I have friends and colleagues who have lost houses and properties,” Robert Johnson, BVSc, MANZCVS (Feline Medicine), CertZooMed, a director of the Australia-based nonprofit Vets Beyond Borders (VBB) told NEWStat. “Yesterday I was talking to a vet friend whose job was to head out daily to euthanize the numerous livestock who are burnt and suffering. Apart from the immediate effect of the fires on animals, we really need to worry about where we put them once they recover. There is significant habitat loss.”

Anne Fawcett, BScVET, BVSc,MANZCVS (Animal Welfare), DECAWBM, professor of veterinary science at the University of Sydney, lauds the efforts of Johnson and his colleagues. “VBB has been doing so much to coordinate the critical veterinary volunteer effort,” she told NEWStat. “Veterinarians and nurses are helping wildlife, livestock, and companion animals. It’s not easy and often not pleasant work, as there is a lot of euthanasia involved.”

“The true impact of these unprecedented fires on our biodiversity and ecosystems will not be understood for years,” Fawcett added. “Our wildlife have lost so much precious habitat, a source of food, shelter, and protection from predators.”

Although the story has faded somewhat in the American media, the wildfires are still very much a reality in Australia.

“The situation is still very dynamic,” VBB Chairman Ian Douglas, BVMS, MRCVS, MACVS, told NEWStat, noting that some fires once thought to be contained have flared up again. “We can only hope that they can be controlled very soon.”

You can help your colleagues down under with your financial support.

The American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF) will match donations up to $50,000, and the American Veterinary Medical Association is donating $25,000.

Both donations will go to the Australian Veterinary Association’s Benevolent Fund (AVABF) to provide financial assistance to veterinarians like Tara Cashman who’ve provided free care for impacted animals or who’ve lost their own property due to the fire.

To help, visit the AVMF website and apply your donation to “Disaster Relief—AVA Benevolent Fund.”

Photo credit: © iStock/imamember