Helping wildlife in emergencies
The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment works with the community and wildlife rehabilitation groups to rescue and care for injured and distressed native wildlife in an emergency, such as prolonged drought or after fire or flood.
We provide additional support and coordination to wildlife rehabilitation groups and work with experts to assess the health and status of affected plant and animal populations, and develop and licence recovery actions, such as supplementary feeding, emergency collection and captive breeding programs.
During an emergency, such as drought, fire or flood, some native animals may need short-term help. Approaching wildlife can be risky for both humans and animals. If you find an animal in distress, disoriented, heavily waterlogged, or in an unexpected location, you should seek advice from a trained wildlife rescuer or vet. Native wildlife has specific and varied needs and are not used to being handled.
How you can help injured wildlife
Only licensed wildlife rescue and rehabilitation providers or qualified vets may take injured or orphaned native animals into care. You can use the IFAW Wildlife Rescue App (International Fund for Animal Welfare) to quickly find the closest one to you to contact.
If you find an injured animal, and it is safe to do so, contain it in a covered box in a dark, quiet place while while waiting for a rescuer or taking an animal to a wildlife carer or vet.
Helping wildlife in extreme conditions
Although not injured, during drought or fire native animals may need access to water, food or shelter, until their natural environment recovers. Only provide water or food for native wildlife if you have the permission of the landowner or manager, including in national parks, state forests, council and crown land. You are not allowed to feed any animal in a park unless it is done with the consent of a park authority and in accordance with any conditions set. This includes leaving any vegetable matter, agricultural materials or containers.
During a flood, native animals made temporarily homeless may need access to short term shelter to dry out, or until flood water recedes. It is not recommended to provide food, water or heating unless directed by a licensed wildlife carer or vet.
Assess if wildlife needs water or food
Native plants and animals have evolved over millions of years and have developed strategies to assist them through natural disasters. Some bushland areas may be less affected than others nearby, allowing surviving wildlife to retreat to these areas to seek out food, water and shelter.
If there is vegetation but no reliable source of water, then providing water only is the best way you can help. Remember, you won't see many of our nocturnal animals in the day time, so you need to look for signs in the landscape.
If you do assist wildlife by providing food or water, you need to regularly reassess to decide when help is no longer needed.
Wildlife don't need water provided when:
- a reliable source of water is running in creeks and rivers for at least a month
- dams are at least 20% full
- seasonal flowers or fruit are available for nectar feeders as a source of moisture.
Wildlife don't need food provided when:
- a reliable source of green pick or ground cover is available for native browsers
- some canopy cover or new growth is on trees
- a seasonal source of nectar and fruit is available for nectar feeders
- foraging native animals are active at times you would usually expect to see them.
Consider the risks
Take all necessary steps to minimise the risks to you, wildlife and recovering bushland ecosystems. Do your homework. Find out what species live in your local area, their needs, if they require assistance and if you have permission from the landowner or manager.
A plan is needed for regular inspections, refilling and removal of unused or spoiled contents, and eventual removal of containers as conditions improve. Without a plan, a good intention may create unintended harm.
- Emergencies are inherently dangerous. Assess all potential hazards (PDF 557KB) and minimise risks, by wearing protective clothing, closed shoes, carry a mobile phone and let people know what you are doing. If you see injured or fire-affected wildlife ring your local wildlife care group.
- Never enter an active fire ground. A fire ground may be classified as 'active' and 'tree fall risk' for months after the fire has passed due to hazards such as damaged or burnt-out trees that may unexpectedly fall or drop branches and root systems and ash beds still burning underground. Stay up to date with the Fires near me app.
- Wildlife care groups and other members of the public are not permitted to enter an 'active fire ground' without approval from the Fire Incident Controller.
- Native animals are adapted to foraging in native bushland. Foods not naturally found in the bush are harmful in varying degrees and some may be debilitating or fatal in large amounts or cause a change in natural behaviour. Supplementary feeding is only ever needed short term and should be gradually reduced over a 2-week transition when conditions improve.
- Wildlife can become dependent on people for food, stopping them from undertaking normal foraging behaviours. They can become a nuisance and act aggressively towards people to obtain food, which may have poor outcomes for the animal.
- Feeding can favour aggressive animals, which can lead to an imbalance, causing unnatural densities and disadvantaging other native species.
- Pest animals may unintentionally benefit. Avoid providing food where pest animals can dominate food stations or prey on native animals. Monitor feeding stations and discontinue if it is being used by pest animals. Record the location of pest animals on feral scan.
- Ensure water or feeding stations are authorised by the landowner or land manager, including national parks, state forests, council and crown land. You are not allowed to provide food or water on public land without consent, and in accordance with any conditions set.
- Your assistance may not be needed in these areas as they may already have a recovery plan in place. Entering private land without permission is trespassing, while placing unauthorised containers on public land may jeopardise the outcome of a program that is already underway.
- Never provide hay as wildlife feed in bushland areas due to the risk of spreading ecosystem-transforming weeds. Weeds and soil-borne fungal diseases may be transported into fire-affected areas and easily spread in the more open landscape.
- Thoroughly clean mud and vegetation off boots, clothing and equipment. Arrive clean, leave clean.
Many animals can only survive a matter of days without water. You can help a range of native animals by giving them a safe supply of clean water, changed daily to prevent the spread of disease. Never add electrolytes or sugar to the water as it can be harmful.
Swimming pools can present a danger to thirsty wildlife if no other water source is available. Keep your pool covered or secure a flotation device to the side of the pool, such as a rope threaded through a pool noodle, to allow wildlife to escape if they fall in while drinking. Check it daily.
- Containers or water dispensers put in the shade, at a range of heights including in trees.
- Strong containers to avoid collapse with a stable rock or stick in them to give safe access out of the water for birds and reptiles.
- Firm surfaces to put the containers on, so they don't tip if a heavy animal tries to use it.
- A cleared area with shade to allow nervous wildlife to watch out for predators and keep cool.
There are simple watering stations you can set up. Try making a wildlife watering pod for small mammals and reptiles to use.
Once a reliable source of water becomes available, collect all water containers you have placed out. Unless damaged and unrepairable, do not send them to landfill. Clean and dry them thoroughly. If they are heavily soiled, they can be soaked for half an hour in a solution with the ratio of one cup of bleach to four litres of water. Store them out of direct sunlight in case they are required for future use, alternatively, repurpose them.
Feeding native animals is generally not recommended because they have very special and diverse dietary needs. Although it's always best for the health of wildlife to forage for food and water naturally, in times of natural disaster when natural food resources are scarce, you may want to help by providing food. Only supplementary feed until nature begins to recover. If there is still vegetation, providing water only is the best way you can help.
- What can be offered to one animal in small amounts may be harmful to another and could result in debilitating disease or even death. Overfeeding can be fatal. Always offer fresh water.
- Remove uneaten food. Wash your hands before and after cleaning and drying all food and water containers. Change them daily to prevent the spread of disease and attracting pests. Disinfect containers using a dishwasher or by soaking them in a solution of one cup of bleach added to four litres of water.
- Secure food containers in trees. Never throw food, including birdseed, directly onto the ground as it attracts predators and can make some wildlife sick.
- Never feed wildlife bread, honey, sugar, avocado, chocolate or dairy products as they are very harmful.
- Do not feed wildlife mixtures of peanut butter, honey and rolled oats (known as bait or wildlife balls) as they are harmful to some animals.
- For information about koalas see Helping Koalas in emergencies.
- For information about flying-foxes see Helping flying-foxes in emergencies. Do not approach flying-foxes without vaccination for Australian bat lyssavirus and wearing protective gear. Seek urgent medical advice if scratched.
This table lists foods suitable for some native wildlife short-term, until conditions improve, and they can feed naturally. It is considered unnecessary, harmful or needs expert knowledge to offer food to animals not mentioned, even during times of natural disaster. The foods in the 'Don't use – harmful' column may cause poor health outcomes to the animal or to bushland ecology.
||Use in small amounts
|Kangaroos, wallabies, pademelons and wombats
Macropod pellets (rural supply stores) – if not available, use high fibre horse pellets (not high performance)
Leafy green vegetables
Grass or oaten hay (in farmland only)
Avoid pony, high performance or stud mixes with rice, sugar or pollard (too rich)
Grass or oaten hay (weed risk in bushland areas)
Brassicas, such as cabbage, broccoli, kale, cauliflower
Do not hand feed
Scatter food early morning and evening in small amounts – only replace as needed
Provide fresh water
Sweet potato and carrot may be harmful for some macropods
Eastern pygmy possums
Sugar, squirrel, feathertail and yellow-bellied gliders
Native plants and flowers
Small amounts of sweet potato, pumpkin.
Some pear, red apples or melons (seeds removed)
Insect meal (pet food store)
Rolled oats, peanut butter or honey
These omnivores need a varied diet
Place in fork of tree after sunset
Do not encourage to come to the ground to feed as they are vulnerable to predation
Brushtail and ringtail possums
Native plants and flowers
Small amounts of sweet potato or pumpkin
Fruit or too much starchy vegetable is harmful
Rolled oats, peanut butter or honey
Place in fork of tree after sunset
Mainly folivores (leaf eating)
Eucalyptus foliage placed in a browse pot secured in a tree and replaced regularly
Any food other than eucalyptus leaves are not accepted by these animals
Secure at least 2 metres off the ground to prevent predation
If found in areas without eucalypts, report to the local wildlife rescue group
Carnivorous and insectivorous marsupials such as:
Antechinus, bandicoots, native rats and other rodents
Insect meal (pet food shops)
Finely chopped starchy vegetables
Mealworms (small amount)
Avoid raw or cooked meat or bones
Rolled oats, peanut butter and honey
Scatter beneath the leaf litter or place under logs where nothing larger than a bandicoot can reach
Seed and grain eating birds including parrots, cockatoos, galahs, finches
Good quality wild bird blocks with large and small seeds hung in trees
Fruit with seeds removed such as apples, pears, melons hung in trees
Black or grey sunflower seeds as they can make birds sick
Seed mixes other than wild bird mix or blocks
Do not scatter seed on the ground, it attracts predators and makes other species sick
Dispose of rotting and spoiled food
Insect meal or nectar mix placed in fork of tree
Do not offer water and sugar or honey mixes
Do not leave food on the ground as birds may be attacked by predators
||Nectar mix on a platform attached to a tree
||Do not offer bread, water and sugar or honey mixes
||Do not feed on the ground
Insect mean (on ground or in trees)
Finely chopped vegetables placed in a tree fork
Create ground habitat using logs, rocks and leaf-litter
Do not place vegetables on the ground – harmful to other animals
Suitable foods table developed in consultation with ecologists, wildlife veterinarians, wildlife nutritionists and licensed rehabilitators based on the current knowledge for emergency situations.
As conditions improve, a transition of up to 2 weeks may be needed to encourage all animals to forage for food naturally again. During the weaning period:
- reduce the amount of food offered
- reduce attractiveness of what is offered, for example, only offer native plants and flowers to brushtail and ringtail possums and no sweet potato or pumpkin.
- break the routine by reducing the number of days you put food out, but still check regularly to remove uneaten or rotting food.
Some native animals may need supplementary feeding for a longer period after conditions have improved, if their food requirements are not immediately available, such as fruit and nectar feeders.
Once weaning is complete, collect all food containers you have placed out. Unless damaged and unrepairable, do not send them to landfill. Clean and dry them thoroughly. If they are heavily soiled, they can be soaked for half an hour in a solution with the ratio of 1 cup of bleach to 4 litres of water. Store them out of direct sunlight in case they are required for future use, or alternatively, repurpose them.
You can help by making your garden wildlife-friendly by growing native food plants and creating shelter and habitat by using logs, rocks and nest boxes (PDF 1.45 MB).
Tree hollows are usually found in mature and dead trees, with many providing refuge from the weather and predators. A tree hollow may also be a safe site for roosting or breeding birds, bats, possums and other mammals, reptiles and frogs. The type of animal and how often it uses a hollow depends on:
- where the hollow is positioned on the tree
- size and shape of its entrance
- depth of the hollow
- the amount of insulation from wood thickness
- shadiness and extent of the canopy
- orientation to minimise overheating in local conditions.
Pygmy possums, for example, prefer their hollow opening to be around 2 centimetres high, while a powerful owl prefers a hollow entrance up to 1 metre high. A hollow can be as shallow as 10 centimetres for some types of pardalote or an astonishing 10 metres deep for a king parrot nest.
Natural tree hollows take at least 100 years to develop in the heartwood, and are created by a wind, fire, heat, lightning, rain, fungus and attack from insects, and further refined by claws, beaks or teeth by enterprising wildlife over time. While fire can contribute to the creation of hollows in trees, an intense fire can lead to a shortage of living or dead hollow bearing trees and can displace or kill wildlife sheltering in them.
Help to increase understanding about the type and number of tree hollows available in your local area by recording your invaluable observations at Hollows as Homes.
An appropriately designed and installed nest box can never take the place of a tree hollow, but may assist wildlife displaced after a natural disaster, or when there are no hollow bearing trees on your property. If you install a nest box it is a long term commitment, as many animals return to the same hollow annually to breed. Careful planning and commitment are needed. Success is not guaranteed.
Remember to keep cats, dogs and children at play away from the areas you are providing water, food or shelter. Cats quickly learn where wildlife are congregating and may stalk them.
- Know what animal you are targeting, and why. Look up the native animals that usually occur in your local area on NSW BioNet. Find out which species are threatened in your area and investigate their nest box requirements. Do not install multiple nest boxes designed for the same common species, such as brushtail possums, as this may cause an imbalance in the ecology of the area.
- Ensure construction method and design features suit the targeted native animal and local weather conditions. One nest box design does not suit all. Different native animals have different needs. Resources include:
- Ensure your nest boxes are installed at least 3 to 4 metres from the ground to avoid predation by cats and foxes as both can climb several metres.
- Positioning of the nest box is critical. Place in a type of tree preferred by the animal. Face the entrance away from prevailing winds and so it is shaded during the hottest part of the day. In fire-affected areas where tree canopy is diminished, place the nest box on the eastern side of the tree for the trunk to provide protection from the afternoon sun. Compared to the protection offered by a tree hollow, the limited ventilation and low insulation offered by a nest box means temperatures can rise quickly. Temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius or more within a nest box can kill nestlings and eggs within a few hours.
- Maintain and monitor the nest box. If installing one or more nest boxes on your property, you should have a management and monitoring plan. The management plan should include:
- numbering the nest box for identification, if more than one is installed
- record-keeping for each box, including: a photograph, what species it is for, height mounted from the ground, how it was mounted, entry hole size, depth, when and what species use it and other observations
- marking the nest box location on a map of your property.
- Have a routine maintenance schedule to inspect and repair, fill cracks and ensure the nest box is still securely attached.
- Help to increase understanding about the type and number of tree hollows available in your local area by recording your invaluable observations at Hollows as Homes.
- You can install any number of nest boxes on your own property, however, you must have permission to install a nest box from the landowner or manager if elsewhere, including on public land and in accordance with any conditions set.
- Use timber around 3 centimetres thick, or other methods for insulation, in hot or cold weather, and use screws instead of nails for longevity, as nails can become loose over time.
- Weatherproof by drilling holes in the base for drainage.
- Ensure there are no sharp edges, including any tin used for waterproofing. Use a bench saw or router to cut a grid pattern in the side panel and internal sides. This will give animals something to grip when climbing into and out of the box. Wire mesh is not recommended as it may entangle delicate feet. Alternatively, you can secure a small branch inside for them to use to prevent entrapment. Some birds like a perching branch or block.
- Feral pests such as sparrows, starlings and Indian mynas may drive away native birds and build nests over eggs and young. Remove any nest building by them and report their presence on feral scan.
- Build an anti-myna baffle (PDF 1.59MB) on your nest box.
- European bees may set up a hive. Call a local beekeeper for its removal.
Disposing of deceased wildlife
Finding deceased wildlife can be distressing and can also pose a risk to your health and safety. If you find deceased wildlife, please contact your local wildlife rescue organisation. They will keep a record of any native animal reported, which will assist in understanding the impact of the emergency on wildlife and may assist in future conservation actions.
Carcass disposal should occur as soon as practical after an animal has died. Handling should be kept to a minimum using appropriate personal protective equipment including:
- leather or rubber boots
- clothes that cover exposed skin
- eye protection
- a P2 face mask.
Small animals that can be handled easily should be put into a suitable container or garbage bag and disposed of through your regular council bin service.
Flying-foxes must only be handled by a registered and vaccinated wildlife carer due to the risk of Australian bat lyssavirus. If you have had no physical contact, then there is no risk of contracting Australian bat lyssavirus. Contact your local wildlife rescue organisation.
Large animals including kangaroos that cannot be safely disposed of in your regular council bin service should be disposed of according to advice in the Department of Primary Industries Primefact – Animal carcass disposal.
During emergencies you can also request assistance for disposal of large animals, through the Agriculture and Animal Services Hotline 1800 814 647.
To report pollution or debris on beaches or in rivers caused by floods, or if you see a potential incident with serious environmental impacts please contact the Environment Line immediately on 131 555 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org