British Columbia

'It superseded what we expected': B.C. volunteer team returns home from wildlife rescue mission in Australia

Brad Pattison of Kelowna and his team of six volunteers have just returned to Canada after spending a month rescuing wildlife in Australia, amid the country’s unprecedented bushfires.

'There's images that I wish no one to see. You just can't get them out of your mind'

Volunteers carry a koala through a 'black walk,' a term used to describe an area burned by fires. (Brad Pattison)

Brad Pattison of Kelowna B.C., and his team of six volunteers have just returned to Canada after spending 33 days rescuing wildlife in Australia, amid the country's unprecedented bushfires. 

The group left in January with the intention of helping animals left dehydrated, starving and injured by the fires. The work came with its fair share of emotion. 

"It superseded what we expected," Pattison told Radio West host Sarah Penton. "There's images that I wish no one to see. You just can't get them out of your mind."

An estimated one billion animals have perished in the Australian fires. 

"One minute you're seeing horrible devastation and death and then seven, eight seconds later, you see a wild kangaroo that is frozen in pain, looking at us for help," Pattison said. 

"You go from something that is absolutely gut wrenching and rips out your heart to 'we're back on our mission and we've got to snap out of our very sad state' and go do what we're supposed to do and that is help that kangaroo."

Volunteer Heidi Dummler assisting a wombat. (Brad Pattison)

Each time the group walked through an area devastated by fire, called a 'black walk,' looking for animals, they had to check the pouches of deceased animals for joeys that might have survived. 

"You're holding this tiny little creature that's two months old and its parent has died because of, for whatever reason, being burnt to death, but the baby is protected in the pouch," Pattison said.

One marsupial in particular stuck with Pattison — a koala named Bodie. Bodie, who is blind in one eye, was found dehydrated and starving, and veterinarians gave him a low chance of survival. 

But shortly after returning to Canada, Pattison learned that Bodie is recovering well, has been released from veterinary care and is climbing and eating eucalyptus. 

More than one billion animals have died in the Australian fires. (Brad Pattison)

"This koala is now going to go on to breed with other koalas to keep the population strong," Pattison said. "Many many died, we all know that, so any koala that we participated in rescuing and getting to a healthy state is massive for the population."

Pattison said it will take up to 50 years to know how Australian wildlife will recover from the fires, because of breeding and vegetation loss. 

Though the fires in Australia have subsided, Pattison says the need for financial support remains. Feed for animals in care, water, fuel to transport food and water are costs that continue, even after the blaze is extinguished. 

Pattison's work with Australian wildlife continues, even from afar; he's allocating monetary donations to help plant specific vegetation to help animals.

"We are one planet," he said. "We're not like, oh there's Australia over there and we need to be worried about our stuff here. We're all one planet."

With files from Radio West


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