Animals at the frontline of our climate catastrophe

Animals at the frontline of our climate catastrophe

We recently experienced the hottest November day on record in Western Australia. As I write, there are about 60 bushfires across the state, many more nationwide - and it is still only spring.

I have worked as a vet in Manning for the past 30 years. Recently, I've seen a lot of comments on social media about wildlife escaping from bushfires and appearing on people's properties. Sadly, I think when this happens we are seeing only a tiny fraction of the wildlife that has been affected.

When bushfires hit the Perth Hills in 2005, myself and other wildlife rehab volunteers expected to see lots of burnt wildlife brought in. But in fact, we saw almost none. It steadily became apparent that the death rate was close to 100 per cent.

Those animals that hadn't been killed during a fire died soon afterwards due to loss of habitat and lack of food. By today's standards, those fires were mild. The fires devastating the drought-ravaged east coast are far more severe. The new category of "catastrophic" fire conditions - no rain, low humidity, high temperatures and drought-parched ground - are symptoms of a changing climate that scientists have been warning us about for years.

Another impact of climate change I'm seeing as a wildlife vet is an increase in botulism among waterbirds and other wetland fauna. Botulism is a bacterial mediated disease that grows when waterways dry up and oxygen levels reduce.

As we experience prolonged drought conditions and more frequent days of severe heat due to climate change, so we are experiencing the ideal conditions in which avian botulism can thrive.

The soil-borne bacteria is one of the most poisonous substances known to exist and the disease appears to be increasing, even in managed urban waterways. McDougal Park in Como has an outbreak of botulism so severe that Native Ark - a wonderful local rehab organisation - was considered so overloaded that cases are now being brought to my practice in Manning.

It's hard to witness the death and destruction of our wildlife and their precious habitats. As people around the world see pictures of burnt koalas, they must wonder what has to happen before urgent action is taken on climate change. We are losing the very things that make this country unique.

The government must respond to the growing calls for action: reduce emissions, stop putting the interest of fossil fuel companies before the care of our wildlife, livestock and pets. Animals can't protest, so we must speak for them.

Gary Beilby is a vet in Western Australia.