Cyclone Yasi Update: Assessing Injured Animal Hot Spots
Jenny Smith has been a wildlife carer for 20 years and her specialty is wallabies. She has spent most of her career working in the Innisfail and Mission Beach area – which was smacked by Cyclone Yasi. She is part of a group called Mission Beach Wild Care and she primarily does “rescue” work. We met Jenny the night before at our organizational meeting and she agreed to take us on a tour of the impacted area. We met her at 0930 and spent the entire day doing what is referred to as a "windshield assessment".
Our goal on these types of assessments is to get the "big picture" which means that you get– in and get-out quickly. Cyclone Yasi was simply immense and impacted an area nearly the size of the U.S., so I knew that we could not see all of the affected animals – nor did we have to. We knew from the evening before, that the critical areas (from an animal perspective) would be from Innisfail to Townsville. This narrowed the search area considerably and our hope was to get a visual of as much of that area as possible in one day.
During the windshield assessment, I look for such things as the degree of damage to infrastructure (roads, power, water, veterinary services, etc.), accessibility, methods of ingress and egress, human needs and if they are being met (I try to avoid starting animal rescue if immediate human needs have not been addressed), and staging, evacuation, and transportation needs. From this type of assessment, I will be able to prioritize operational areas, start developing objectives, resource needs, and budget.
The slower, more methodical process of assessment and then of search and rescue comes a bit later. Typically, we will work in three teams with the first team working quickly throughout the entire region (windshield assessment) and the second team (hasty search) doing a perimeter grid search and treating/transporting critical care needs. The third team will be doing an organized block by block grid search.
We were pleasantly surprised to see that much of Innisfail had power restored and they escaped much of the damage. But as we left town, working our way to Tully, we experienced some of the worst devastation that I have ever seen to rain forest. It looked more like a fire had gone through the area rather than a cyclone. Trees were completely stripped of their bark, countless trees and branches were down and in some cases, the entire area of the forest was destroyed. It’s hard to imagine what the short and long-term impact will be to the critters that call the rain forest home. Of great concern to the carers in this area are the endangered gliders and cassowary. Any animal that lived in the deep lush canopy or the nutrient-dense floor, will likely be forced to find new areas to live – assuming that they survived at all.
And from an agricultural perspective – there was the near-total loss of the banana fields. Not only does this have a huge impact on the national economy but with the price of bananas doubling overnight ($5/kg), the carers are very concerned. We will need to make sure that we take into account availability and cost of all fruit as we develop our recovery plan and budget.
Tully was our next stop and was abuzz with military and emergency services clearing out trees and debris. They got hit hard. We wanted to check in on Dr. Graham, to make sure that he was okay and to see how his clinic fared. He was without power but with the aid of a generator and the Australia Veterinary Association bringing in supplies, he was planning on opening on Monday. Any critical care needs would be sent to Innisfail, but he was ready to at least start seeing some clients and wildlife that might need immediate care. Of course, like all vets, he didn’t wait for a formal opening to start treating animals in need - three terns were waiting in his carport when he came out after the storm. And while we were there, folks were driving in with their critters hoping that he would be able to take a look. He had already treated a couple of dogs that morning so without a doubt, he will be very busy for quite some time.
We decided to drive as far south as we could before heading to the coast. Fortunately, just as we were arriving into Caldwell – which was also hard hit - they were allowing one lane of traffic all the way into Townsville. Having this road open, is going to be huge for the southern cities in terms of getting supplies and workers into the area. Given the time of day, we opted to turn around at Caldwell and head straight to Mission Beach which had been identified by the carers as the area most likely to need our help. And they were correct. The area looked like a war zone. But amazingly, the homes and structures fared fairly well but the surrounding flora was destroyed. There will be no power in this area for some time and without phones, we were not able to contact the 10-20 carers working in the greater area. Jenny showed us where her daughter (and many newlyweds) had her wedding pictures taken – now nothing stood between the road and the sea. The asphalt in many sections of the road had been stripped as if sliced off. The storm in this area hit just as high tide was occurring and in places, a 3m surge came through wiping out everything in its path.
We were able to check in with some friends of Jenny - fellow carers - Penny and Craig who specialize in bird rescue. Lots of downed trees on their property and their wallaby area was totaled but their aviaries for the most part were intact. When they saw the damage to the wallaby area, they immediately contacted Jenny who was there quickly to transport them back to her house where she will foster them until they can get their housing repaired.
Until the carers return and the phone lines are working, we will not know the real impact of the storm on wildlife. Typically, in situations like this, it takes a good week (or longer) before we start seeing the wildlife, so we will need to be patient for a bit before trying to nail down strategies and tactics.
7 February 2011
We drove up the mountain to visit Jenny, her partner Daryl, her wallabies, pademelon, and bandicoots. What an amazing place – certainly wallaby heaven! Jenny and her partner live in a small town called Speewah which is up in the rainforest above Cairns. Not only do her critters receive all the love and care needed to prepare them for release back to the wild, but by bordering national park land – she doesn’t have to go far to find some ideal habitat for their release.
We wanted to check on Penny’s three little guys to see how they were doing. They have had a very stressful four days – not only surviving a storm but now being in unfamiliar territory without their "mom". They are experiencing diarrhea and inappetence so we got Dr. Howard (part of our response team for the floods) on the phone with Jenny to see if there was anything else that she could be doing to help them along.
Dehydration is a very serious problem with all critters, especially the young ones so she will be watching these guys very closely. We will make sure to add them to the top of the list when Dr. Howard gets here. On a positive note, it’s times like this that I realize how lucky I am – I spent much of the morning bottle feeding baby wallabies. What a treat! And to cap off the near-perfect morning, I was able to snag an update on the Super Bowl – go Steelers…
We then started out for Atherton to visit the Tolga Bat Center. I had first heard of Jenny Maclean and the Bat Center during the floods a couple of weeks earlier and we wanted to see how humans and bats were doing after the storm. For the most part, they fared well though Jenny did lose her primary aviary for the microbats and we will certainly stand-by to assist in the rebuilding of that if needed. As with all these facilities dealing with a large number of animals (there are 150 “orphans” at Tolga), losing power is a very stressful thing as the carers need to have a way of keeping food and medicines cold. But Jenny had a couple of generators going and the bats seemed to be doing just fine. We happened in at just the right time as the bats were about to receive lunch. What an amazing sight as banana slushies and apples were hung and the feeding frenzy began. Tania jumped into help with the feeding and I made sure that the photographer got some good shots!
Tomorrow, I will meet with the good folks at Far North Queensland Wildlife Rescue to determine our next steps. As I mentioned, it’s still too early to estimate wildlife impact but not too early to start the recovery planning. When we are attempting to develop a response and recovery plan, everything is based and managed by objective. In this case, we have identified four primary objectives:
• Food distribution;
• Acute and long-term veterinary care;
• Evacuation, relocation, and transportation; and
• Rebuilding of rehabilitation centers.
When developing response objectives, I invite as many of the response partners as possible to the planning meeting to ensure that everyone is on the same page as to the best way to manage the incident. In this case, we had about a dozen folks from the various groups attend our organizational meeting. A critical part of this process is to come to an agreement on how we will prioritize our objectives and then make sure that objectives and budget agree. This is probably the most difficult part of the planning process, making sure that we establish realistic objectives knowing that we may have limited funds. Fortunately, after completing our initial assessment, determining the response objectives, and estimating expenses, I am confidant that we will be able to meet our objectives and stay within the budget. That’s a good thing!
So tomorrow will be a critical part of the planning process as I meet with folks to hammer out how we will manage the response effort to ensure that we meet the needs of the greatest number of animals possible. Fortunately, the RSPCA has been very active in this area for many years so we will refer calls on dogs and cats to them and the various livestock groups are handling the relief effort for the cattle and horses. Therefore, our emphasis for this disaster will be wildlife.
I will outline our response and recovery plan in tomorrow’s blog.
For more information on the International Fund for Animal Welfare efforts around the world, visit http://www.ifaw.org