Stories of heroic carers in Cyclone Debbie’s wake

Cyclone Debbie

The usually pristine waters of the Whitsundays were littered with debris. A lone schooner, now buried in the sand, its masts protruded from its sunken, revealed the intensity of the storm’s fury.

Accompanied by Jacqui Webb from Fauna Rescue Whitsundays, our first stop in the tour of devastated areas around the Whitsundays was the home of Andrea and Ian, who like many accredited carers across the country, have given up their time, hard earned money and space in their homes to care for injured and ill wildlife before releasing them back to the wild.

It turned out that their home was a fully functioning and busy sanctuary. We were fortunate enough to be greeted by Mark the Crow, a lovely Tawny Frogmouth (Tawny) and their resident possum as he munched on his banana above the koala enclosure. A highlight for me was observing this lovely koala “Karla” who was found amongst the floodwaters, cold and orphaned and who is now thriving in care.

While with Andrea and Ian, we met a dynamic mother and daughter team, Lori and Bella. They told us about a small female black flying fox in their care, another victim of Cyclone Debbie. She was a messy but eager feeder as she lapped up the golden mango juice upside down with eyes watching. Here’s to a speedy recovery.

As we left Ian and Andrea’s, we drove by a colony of flying foxes along the roadside and then checked on a seabird before heading to the home of another carer named Barb. While we were there, another carer called Kerry brought out a tiny wallaby joey that was barely furred. This little guy has a long way to go but with ongoing treatment and care, I am hopeful that he will live a long life and be rehabilitated to full recovery for release into the wild.

Kerry lost her enclosure during the storm and will be one of the first to benefit from IFAW’s generous grant. Barb, spoke of a number of possums in her care and told us how her aviary was whisked away by the raging current in the creek behind her home. The rising waters took her fence, the enclosure and left her chooks vulnerable to the dogs in her neighbourhood. She too, will soon have a new enclosure so that her possums can climb freely as they await a safe release.

We even managed help Barb out by offering a taxi service to some of the wildlife in her care! We were able to drive two rescued doves to their long-term carer for much needed treatment to ensure they survived when released. Our next job was to pick up a butcher bird with an injured eye and take it to a vet to be evaluated.  Jacqui then offered to introduce us to more carers.

As we travelled to our next destination, Jacqui remarked that the usual landmarks to her neighbour Katy’s property were no longer there. In their place were piles of debris. As we arrived at Katy’s home, we were greeted by sadness and grief; mobile vet Glen Botes had just euthanased another wallaby who was suffering from tetanus.

It was evident that the day had taken its toll on Glen after having to put so many animals out of their misery – the reality was that many of the wildlife victims of Cyclone Debbie were simply too sick to be saved. Glen very kindly took a moment in his busy day to attend to the juvenile butcherbird with the injured eye. This little victim put a smile back on Glen’s face as he thought it had a chance of survival under Jacqui’s care.

Katy showed us the damage to her enclosures and took us in to meet two lovely wallabies in her care. Miss Polly Maple, an unadorned rock wallaby was quite cheeky as she peered at us with focused curiosity and her little mate was bouncing all around us and licking at our legs. We learned of the endangered Proserpine rock wallaby and were asked if we wished to go and see the ones that had been at Katy’s during the storm. We couldn’t say no, and our day ended as we drove up a long drive that led to the home where Katy had hand-carried three dog carriers with her daughter after the storm to give these little guys a temporary shelter. Once the enclosures are built they will have a safe place to be once again.

We were privileged to hear the stories of these caring people and their heartbreaking journey to help save the many animals that came into their care since the winds began.

The following morning we travelled back to Brisbane with hearts full of hope.


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Senior Program Advisor
Senior Program Advisor
Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
IFAW Veterinarian
Gail A'Brunzo, Manager, Wildlife Rescue
Manager, Wildlife Rescue
Veterinarian, DVM, PhD
Veterinarian, DVM, PhD
Katie Moore, Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
Loïs Lelanchon, Animal Rescue Program Officer
Animal Rescue Program Officer
Shannon Walajtys
Manager, Animal Rescue-Disasters
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy