Saving wildlife after the bushfires has been a battle for the Braidwood region's Native Animal Rescue Group - but the campaign has entered the long-term recovery phase.
"Now we're starting to think in terms of not just holding ground, but to try to make advances," NARG president Bill Waterhouse said.
NARG announced its Wildlife Bushfire and Drought Recovery Plan this week, including a veterinary triage clinic, food drops, and rebuilding release sites.
"Recovery's a long time coming. We only ever found a small number of animals that came injured from the fireground," Mr Waterhouse said.
The vast majority, he believes, perished in the flames that killed an estimated billion and a half animals across the country.
- Bushfire Financial Support call centre opens for small business
- We do not have a supply issue: Woolworths boss calms panic shoppers
- Uplifting good news stories you ABSOLUTELY need today
- Back to School vouchers available to help families in fire-affected communities
- Braidwood artisans exhibit at bragSTUDIOmarkets
Only about 30 animals came into NARG care after the fires and the floods. "The vast majority of them didn't make it," Mr Waterhouse said. "They're just carcasses, out there in the bush."
In the region that NARG covers, 60 per cent of the territories were burnt, Mr Waterhouse said, including many of the release sites. Nearly all the forests in the area were hit by the fire: Tallaganda State Forest, Morton National Park, Monga National Park, and Deua National Park, once home to greater gliders and koalas, wallabies, and bird life.
Although the group cannot access the national parks themselves, members patrol the nearby fire grounds, searching for injured animals on their gloomy 'Black Walks'.
"It's been a long time coming, and it's all fairly late really," Mr Waterhouse said, "but we're doing our best to pick up any piece of what's left over in the fire ground."
An eagle was brought to them only last week with burns. "So there are still animals out there that are suffering," Mr Waterhouse said.
"We went and rescued a koala ourselves a week and a half ago from Nerriga, but sadly it was too far gone, and it passed away before we could get it to the vet. It was on its last legs. Basically. all the Nerriga koalas have passed away."
NARG will set up a triage veterinary clinic near where they're searching. "Plan A," Mr Waterhouse said, "is at Tomboyne, but we'll see how things progress." The clinic is relatively flexible, and can be moved in a day.
The organization has received more formalized support through animal welfare group Vets for Compassion: a co-ordinator from Sydney; vets from Victoria to dart injured but mobile animals; a tree-climber to rescue koalas; and professional drone operators with thermal imaging cameras to identify species.
NARG's intense wildlife recovery effort began when the fires broke out three months ago.
"Since November 30 till today, we've been plodding away trying to protect our properties and the animals in our care," Mr Waterhouse said. "We had to evacuate them. Where we evacuated them to then got burnt."
Once the fires eased at Majors Creek, and became marginally less of a threat, NARG set up food and water stations for animals along the edge of the firegrounds, largely on the initiative of local woman Felicity Sturgess - "an absolute powerhouse," Mr Waterhouse said admiringly.
"She's not a NARG member, but a concerned citizen who spent vast sums of her money to establish and maintain these food drops."
So far, Mr Waterhouse said, 180 food drops have been made. NARG asks people living along the fire ground to maintain the food drops, clean them up if they get wet, and keep them stocked.
(More detailed map at Google Maps: tinyURL: http://tiny.cc/idkllz.)
The greatest pleasure of the recovery effort, Mr Waterhouse found, has been the generosity of the public: "overwhelmingly stunning and beyond all belief". NARG has received donations from little kids raiding their piggy banks, from grown-ups, from charitable organisations, and even from celebrities.
$20,000 so far has been spent on feeding animals. Now grass is starting to grow along the edge of the fireground, the group will begin to rebuild their release sites.
"We're now financially capable of rebuilding everything and extending that which we had before, so that we have an improved capacity to deal with the animals that come into care," Mr Waterhouse said.
Release enclosures at the Two Thumbs koala sanctuary, Sassafras, and Peak View were damaged, Mr Waterhouse said. Some of those facilities must be torn down and replaced completely. Teams of volunteers have already started rebuilding the Sassafras release site, and the organization has funding to build a new enclosure at Two Thumbs.
NARG also hoped to develop another release site near the Morton National Park between Tomboyne and Nerriga, but that site was burnt to the ground. Little can be done until the bush starts to recover in spring.
"At the moment, it's just lunar - a grey environment with almost nothing growing," Mr Waterhouse said.
What can you do?
The wildlife group is dedicated but small; it only has 50 members, and is always looking for new recruits, especially people with time, capacity, and experience to care for an animal.
In Braidwood, possum, kangaroo, and reptile carers are needed. Mr Waterhouse would also be glad to hear from snake relocators; people with firearms / animal licences who can carry out the occasional euthanasia; and people happy to have wild animals released on their properties, ideally adjoining national parks.
NARG hopes to hold a beginner's training course soon, teaching the public and new members how to rescue and look after animals for a few hours before a carer can take them.
Mr Waterhouse asked readers to be alert for wildlife. Because there is less food, animals are more likely to come to the roadside in search of food, putting them at risk from vehicles.
"The normal day-to-day rescues continue; we're still getting road victims, snake relocations, and problem possums - but we need the general public to keep their eyes and ears open," Mr Waterhouse said.
"If anyone sees any injured animals, let us know! We need the public to let us know where these animals are, then we can send a team to get them; or we need the public to grab the animal - don't put yourself in danger - and bring it to us."
The koala that died a week and a half ago, he said, might have been saved if the finder had notified NARG at once, rather than when the animal climbed down the tree four days later.
Mr Waterhouse also asked property owners adjoining national parks to let NARG members go on 'Black Walks' through their land to find injured animals that need help.