To most of the world, the enduring image of Australia’s bushfires has been injured koalas, but for former teacher John Creighton, the impact has been far worse for the native wombat.
“For every koala we’ve lost, we maybe lost 10 or 15 wombats, that’s the number we’re not seeing,” the head of volunteer group Wombat Care Bundanoon told Reuters in Wingello, a bushfire-ravaged village about 150 km (90 miles) southwest of Sydney.
“The koala has become the symbol of the fire but so many other animals have died. We’ve lost so much of our wildlife,” he added.
Creighton, 58, said he developed a bond with the stocky, short-legged marsupial when he moved to Australia from New Orleans 30 years ago. He dedicated his life to learning how to rescue and treat wombats that were injured or killed in the wild and on the road.
Six years ago, he turned to rescuing wombats full time.
As the fires tear through a wilderness area five times the size of New Hampshire, hundreds of firefighters have been mobilized to protect people, homes, roads and utilities. But the casualties have included an estimated billion native animals, according to environmental scientists.
That has encouraged animal protection volunteers like Creighton and about 50 more people to redouble their efforts, setting up feeding stations for wombats returning to a landscape turned to ash.
The feeding stations involve putting out carrots, hay and water for the wombats.
“The ones who have survived this horrible fire by going into their burrows, they are going to come up to a completely different world and no idea how to exist in it,” he said.
“We’re doing everything we can to turn that around,” he added.