When natural disasters strike, emergency services both paid and voluntary come to the rescue as soon as possible.
Human lives, properties, pets and livestock are prioritised, it seems, more or less in that order, as seen last week when the Rappville fire near Casino destroyed 37 homes.
At least three evacuation centres were set up in Casino and Richmond Valley Mayor Robert Mustow said more than 60 people had been using the one for people.
Another centre was set up for household pets and the Casino Showground, used annually as an outdoor stage for farmers to parade cows, horses and poultry, was turned into an evacuation centre for livestock with owners allowed to camp there too.
But what about wildlife?
Up to 700 koalas could have been killed in the same fire, says acclaimed environmentalist Dailan Pugh.
Nobody can be quite sure because nobody knew for sure how many koalas lived in the Braemar state forest near Rappville before the fire but Mr Pugh says research to date suggested anywhere between 350 and 700.
‘I’m expecting that probably the majority of them will have got killed but I’m still expecting there to be survivors,’ he told Bay FM’s Community Newsroom last week.
Wildlife rescuers banned from entering bushfire impacted areas
But while RFS volunteers were busy assessing property damage and Cr Mustow was calling for people to register themselves on a survival list run by Red Cross late last week, Mr Pugh said nobody was allowed into the fire-impacted area to check on wildlife.
‘I just don’t know why some of the resources can’t be put into going and looking for these injured koalas,’ he said, ‘we need some urgent action, we can’t afford to wait for days and days and days because koalas are dying now’.
Mr Pugh said groups like Friends for the Koalas in Lismore were ‘keen and anxious’ to go looking for koalas but they weren’t allowed to do it yet.
‘So many thousands of animals would have been injured in these fires that are recoverable if they’re brought into care very quickly,’ Mr Pugh said.
‘There needs to be built into this system some way of going in and looking for injured animals and that’s not there at the moment.’
State koala inquiry to meet in Ballina
Mr Pugh said he would be raising the issue of a dedicated wildlife disaster emergency service at a state koala inquiry public hearing in Ballina this Friday.
‘This is our state government, they should be taking action,’ he told Bay FM.
Mr Pugh said the North East Forest Alliance (NEFA)had previously identified the area impacted by last week’s bushfires as one of the most important catchment areas in terms of high-quality koala populations.
The alliance had been calling for an end to logging in the Braemar State Forest before the fire and Mr Pugh said if the government went ahead with plans to continue logging, it would be ‘the death knell for koalas’.
‘We’ve lost about 316 thousand hectares of the Clarence and Richmond catchments in the current fires alone and we had earlier fires in August,’ he said.
A public hearing as part of the koala inquiry is due to happen at the Ballina RSL this Friday.