Suzi Pulis, who runs the Raymond Island Koala and Wildlife Shelter at Waterholes, is only just starting to bring back koalas and joeys that were relocated from the property during the bushfire crisis.
Ms Pulis only recently purchased the historic Waterholes Guest House and its adjoining 45 acres as a sanctuary for injured wildlife.
Having outgrown the Raymond Island site, the team of wildlife carers helped move the animals to Waterholes at the end of August, but didn’t count on the property coming under sustained attack from the onslaught of bushfires, which began in November last year.
The Marthavale bushfires were only 13 kilometres from the Waterholes property at one stage and Ms Pulis advised her band of wildlife helpers if the fire came within the 10km mark she would begin evacuating koalas and joeys.
“We were in constant contact with the CFA and on December 19, without warning, there was a strong north wind in the early hours of the morning resulting in the fires taking an unexpected turn,” Ms Pulis said.
After being advised by the CFA to activate the property’s sprinkler system and start pumping water, Ms Pulis, who was alone at the property with her teenage daughter, then starting moving vulnerable wildlife into the house.
Fortunately, the fires ran straight past the house, but the closeness of the encounter wasn’t lost on Ms Pulis and over the following days she moved 11 koalas and 15 kangaroos to wildlife carers situated at Metung, Nyerimilang, Hillside and Raymond Island.
“We’ve been preparing for fire since the start of December. We knew we’d be impacted at some point,” she said.
After the animals were evacuated to safety, Ms Pulis continued her preparations for the bushfires.
Waterholes is surrounded by thick bush, but the night before the December 30 fires that wreaked havoc across East Gippsland, Ms Pulis decided she would stay and defend her property.
The following day after experiencing problems with the pumps and realising that there wasn’t enough time to fill the water tanks, Ms Pulis had second thoughts and decided to evacuate.
Collecting her two dogs, five chooks and a couple of guinea pigs, she bailed.
Once again, the former Waterholes Guest House was spared after fire ran around the homestead.
“After the fire front came through, we had active fire in the bush around us on the northwest flank and the CFA told us to prepare again for the Saturday (January 4),” Ms Pulis said.
“I evacuated but one of our wildlife carers, Jason Nicholson, stayed.”
Mr Nicholson said the fire came right up to the back gate and after running out of water he came back to the house to take cover.
“Right at that moment, three helicopters flew over with the big one dropping about 2030 bucket loads of water over the back of the house,” Mr Nicholson said.
“I ran down to the river, it was all going on,” he said.
Since the fires, which burnt out most of the bush surrounding the Waterholes property, Ms Pulis and her carers have been putting food out into the fire ravaged area to keep wildlife from starving.
“This whole area was full of koala habitat,” Ms Pulis said.
“Archies Track was diverse in trees for koalas. It will take at least five years to recover.
“An ongoing issue will be animals starving.
“We are trying to find food sources for them with what’s left in the forest, but there’s very little unburnt habitat for the koalas.
“We have been putting food out on the track for both the koalas and wallabies.”
Ms Pulis said the area was last scorched by fires 12 years and had not long recovered.
She urged people to support shelters in the coming months so wildlife on the ground could be fed.
Ms Pulis says donations can be made directly to the Raymond Island Koala and Wildlife Shelter or through the Grain Stores Macleod Street, Bairnsdale.
IMAGE: Wildlife warrior, Suzi Pulis, bottle feeds Pluto, a young joey who was found badly malnourished in the bush during the fires. K54-3994