6 months on: How South Australia’s bushfire-affected wildlife is recovering

6 months on: How South Australia’s bushfire-affected wildlife is recovering

Find out what action has been tak­en to help wildlife since the Kan­ga­roo Island and Ade­laide Hills bushfires.

South Australia’s 2019 – 20 sum­mer bush­fires burnt near­ly 300,000 hectares of land across the state, affect­ing thou­sands of native plants and animals.

Kan­ga­roo Island and the Ade­laide Hills were among the worst hit areas of the state, with near­ly half the island (about 200,000 hectares) and 23,000 hectares of the hills burnt. 

It’s now been 6 months since SA was declared bush­fire-safe by the Coun­try Fire Ser­vice, and work is still under­way to rebuild habi­tat and help wildlife affect­ed by the fires.

Here’s how the recov­ery efforts are pro­gress­ing on Kan­ga­roo Island and in the Ade­laide Hills.

Where actions have been tak­en to help in the recovery?

The recov­ery of the envi­ron­ment on Kan­ga­roo Island and the Ade­laide Hills will take time and plen­ty of hard work, but it’s been a col­lab­o­ra­tive endeav­our, with all lev­els of gov­ern­ment as well as local experts, non-gov­ern­ment organ­i­sa­tions, land­hold­ers and the com­mu­ni­ty deliv­er­ing help in a coor­di­nat­ed way.

Nation­al Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice South Aus­tralia (NPWS­SA), the Kan­ga­roo Island Land­scape Board and the Hills and Fleurieu Land­scape Board have tak­en a num­ber of actions to sup­port native wildlife recov­ery in part­ner­ship with wildlife groups, con­ser­va­tion organ­i­sa­tions, land­hold­ers and communities.

These actions include:

  • on-ground assess­ments and pop­u­la­tion counts
  • a dig­i­tal cit­i­zen sci­en­tist program
  • giv­ing nature time and space
  • fer­al ani­mal control
  • translo­ca­tion of koalas to Cle­land Wildlife Park
  • plant­i­ngs in bush­fire zones
  • estab­lish­ing a Wildlife Recov­ery Fund
  • cre­at­ing a Wildlife and Habi­tat Bush­fire Recov­ery Taskforce
  • devel­op­ing a statewide Wildlife and Habi­tat Bush­fire Recov­ery Plan.

How have these actions helped species and habi­tats recover?

Most recov­ery actions, includ­ing wildlife mon­i­tor­ing and fer­al ani­mal and weed con­trol, will con­tin­ue until bush­land regen­er­ates and can pro­vide nat­ur­al shel­ter and food for native animals.

Focused effort has, and will con­tin­ue to, sup­port the recov­ery of many key native ver­te­brate and inver­te­brate ani­mals, and plant species.

A num­ber of native ani­mals have shown pos­i­tive signs of recov­ery in the six months, including:

1. Dun­nart sight­ings raise hopes for species

Despite near­ly 90 per cent of its island habi­tat being burnt, the endan­gered Kan­ga­roo Island dun­nart has had numer­ous record­ed sight­ings on motion-sens­ing cam­eras installed on park by the NPWS­SA and Kan­ga­roo Island Land­scapes Board staff, com­ple­ment­ed by the work of Kan­ga­roo Island Land for Wildlife on pri­vate land.

This is par­tic­u­lar­ly heart­en­ing after fears habi­tat destruc­tion would dec­i­mate the threat­ened noc­tur­nal mar­su­pi­als, which before the bush­fires only had a pop­u­la­tion num­ber­ing between 300 and 500.

2. Glossy blacks rise from the ashes

Endan­gered glossy black-cock­a­toos have been spot­ted nest­ing in burnt-out bush­land on Kan­ga­roo Island by Kan­ga­roo Island Land­scapes Board staff. Their sur­veys and mon­i­tor­ing have record­ed more than 35 chicks hatch­ing since the bushfires.

While the pre-bush­fire pop­u­la­tion of glossy black-cock­a­toos on the island was esti­mat­ed at about 370, the cur­rent pop­u­la­tion is unknown. A pop­u­la­tion count is planned for spring this year.

Because the bush­fires burnt 75 per cent of their habi­tat on the island, recov­ery actions have includ­ed plant­i­ng she-oak trees and installing nest box­es and tree guards. These mea­sures will help the cock­a­toos dur­ing breed­ing sea­son and stop species, such as pos­sums, com­pet­ing for nests.

3. Koala pop­u­la­tions climb back to recovery

Bush­fires burnt much of the koala habi­tat on Kan­ga­roo Island and some in the Ade­laide Hills. Pre-bush­fire pop­u­la­tions in the Ade­laide Hills and Kan­ga­roo Island were esti­mat­ed to be about 165,000, includ­ing about 50,000 on the island.

To try and estab­lish remain­ing num­bers, pop­u­la­tion counts have been con­duct­ed by NPWS­SA and more than 40 koalas have been relo­cat­ed to Cle­land Wildlife Park for rehabilitation.

It’s esti­mat­ed this num­ber is now about 125,000, with an esti­mat­ed 5000−10,000 left on Kan­ga­roo Island. Both the Kan­ga­roo Island and Ade­laide Hills pop­u­la­tions will recov­er as their habi­tat recovers.

4. Kan­ga­roos bounce back

Bush­fires burnt much of the kan­ga­roo habi­tat on Kan­ga­roo Island and some in the Ade­laide Hills, as well as the upper south­east of the state.

A pop­u­la­tion count is cur­rent­ly under­way by NPWS­SA across the state, with the pop­u­la­tion expect­ed to recov­er as the habi­tat recov­ers. Pri­or to the bush­fires there were an esti­mat­ed 3.6 mil­lion kan­ga­roos across SA, which includes all roo species. Post-bush­fire pop­u­la­tions are sta­ble, how­ev­er drought across the north of the state has like­ly affect­ed the population.

What about oth­er species?

Oth­er species sight­ed with­in bush­fire-affect­ed areas include the south­ern brown bandi­coot, green car­pen­ter bee, west­ern whip­bird and south­ern emu-wren.

Details about some of these ani­mals will be fea­tured in upcom­ing sto­ries – keep an eye out for them.

How is the Wildlife Recov­ery Fund helping?

The Wildlife Recov­ery Fund has raised more than $450,000, which will be used to sup­port re-estab­lish­ing habi­tat for wildlife in the state’s bush­fire-rav­aged regions. It will pro­vide land­hold­ers and com­mu­ni­ty groups with grants to deliv­er on-ground recov­ery action such as native plant regen­er­a­tion, and fer­al ani­mal and weed control.

Read our sto­ry to find outhow Flinders Chase Nation­al Park’s her­itage accom­mo­da­tion is being rebuilt after the bush­fires.

This con­tent was pro­duced in part­ner­ship with  Good Living