NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — Collecting funds to benefit wildlife and conserve habitat is nothing new at the Buttonwood Park Zoo.
Over the past five years, guests of the zoo have contributed $72,000 ─ all going to a wide variety of causes.
With the seemingly never-ending wildfires in Australia, zoo officials are directing new donations toward the Australian Bushfire Crisis Fund, which was created by the Zoo Aquarium Association Australia.
“We’ve decided to take a lot of donations that we would get over the next few months ─ to put directly to help wildlife affected by the fires in Australia,” said Keith Lovett, director of Buttonwood Park Zoo.
Since Buttonwood Park Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Lovett said they will pass along any donations made locally to the Australian Bushfire Crisis Fund.
“Their biggest effort right now is to actually take an animal that has been injured or hurt in the wild, bring them in and rehabilitate. With the hope of returning the animal to the wild,” Lovett said.
Nearly 17.9 million acres have burned across Australia, killing roughly one billion animals, according to CNN.
Lovett can’t quantify the severity of the disaster, but he called “devastating,” and said it could possibly continue to worsen.
“You really haven’t hit peak season, as far as wildfires in Australia. So it could even get worse,” he said.
Lovett also told Eyewitness News Australia has been fighting the uphill battle for the past several years.
“It’s been in drought for many years. It’s been elevated temperatures for many years. Truthfully, not only is causing all kinds of problems with wildlife – there were already problems with wildlife in Australia,” he said. “This [the current wildfires] are just compounding the issues that are seen with regard to the environment and wildlife in Australia.”
For the animals who have survived the fire, moving forward will be difficult. That is why Lovett is asking the community for donations.
“There are a lot of things going on with the animals that survived the fire. One, are they facing any type of injuries? A lot of those animals, unfortunately, will perish because of the injuries they had,” Lovett said.
Due to the wildfires ─ food is scarce.
“There are food drops going on for certain select species, because, their food has been burnt up,” Lovett said.
With a large spotlight on the koalas, Lovett asks everyone not to forget the other animals possibly impacted by the fire.
“They’re a lot of different types of kangaroo species, wallaroos, wallaby. All types of marsupials if you are talking about mammals. There are also birdlife, insect life,” Lovett said.
For all of these reasons, Lovett said it’s important to contribute to the relief efforts if you can do so.
“One of the reasons that we chose the donations to go to the Zoological Association Australia is because they have three priorities to their program,” he said. “First, the most immediate need is triage. They are going to treat those animals that are discovered injured.”
The second step is to regrow the habitat, according to Lovett. He said the final step would be what can be done to prevent events like this from occurring again.
Those wondering will any animals come from Australia, Lovett said it’s not logistically feasible.
“The best thing that can be done is to be able to support the animals in the country,” he said. “There are incredible zoos in Australia, in many regards they are leading these efforts.”
Anyone who wants to donate can do so in person at Buttonwood Park Zoo or online.
In addition, a fundraiser will be held on Jan. 18 at 5 p.m. at the Old Irish Social Club in Providence, with all proceeds going toward the Australian Red Cross.