“This targeted approach means food relief is being delivered to the areas that will have the greatest benefits for our macropod species.”
The food drops will supplement efforts on the ground in Victoria’s east to keep wildlife fed.
But animal welfare organisation, Wildlife Victoria, has said it would be “very difficult” to effectively deliver macropod pellets from the air, even when surviving animals could be identified in specific locations.
Food is being sent to feeding teams in the Mallacoota area and a supplementary feeding station for common species such as eastern-grey kangaroos and swamp wallabies will be set up near Buchan.
Thousands of kilograms of carrots and sweet potatoes have already been dropped from helicopters in fire-affected areas of NSW.
Scientists fear many billions of animals may have been killed by the bushfires that have swept across Australia’s south-east. More than 1.5 million hecares of land has been burnt in Victoria alone.
There are also concerns for the koala and bandicoot populations on French Island, after a fire tore through the national park, which is a sanctuary for native wildlife.
Animal welfare organisations were concerned that a lack of food airdrops to wildlife in Victoria was compounding the catastrophic loss of animals as a result of the bushfires.
However, large scale drops of food can have negative environmental effects, according to the Environment Department, by encouraging invasive weed growth, spreading disease and discouraging animals from seeking habitats unaffected by fire.
Whilst the advice is normally to not feed wildlife, the “rare situation” of both severe drought and bushfires means that “desperate times call for desperate measures,” Australian Conservation Foundation campaigner Jess Abrahams said.
Wildlife Victoria chief executive Megan Davidson welcomed the aerial assessment, but said the state government’s role should be to prioritise threatened species, suppress feral animals that will compete with wildlife for available food, and protect remaining habitat.
“With the welcome rains, we expect grass to quickly grow and this will provide food for many surviving animals,” Ms Davidson said.
“Each species has specific dietary needs, and most suitable foods (such as macropod pellets) would be very difficult to deliver effectively from the air, even when surviving animals can be identified in specific locations.
“Supporting the feeding of wildlife needs to be done carefully and sensitively to avoid unintended outcomes. The indiscriminate dropping of inappropriate foodstuffs into the environment will likely do more harm than good, by feeding feral animals, attracting predators, and introducing weeds into the environment.”
with Ashleigh McMillan
Noel Towell is State Political Editor for The Age
Sumeyya is state political reporter for The Age.