25 January 2020

Crashed tanker was protecting Two Thumbs koala sanctuary, now destroyed by blaze

| Genevieve Jacobs
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James Fitzgerald

James Fitzgerald in his wildlife sanctuaries at Peak View. Photo: NSW Koala Country.

It’s been revealed that the large air tanker which went down Thursday afternoon with the loss of all those aboard was protecting the Two Thumbs Wildlife Trust Koala Sanctuary in the Peak View district near Jerangle.

The Two Thumbs Sanctuary’s sheds, houses, machinery and all the koalas in its care were also destroyed in the blaze.

Snowy Mountains Wildlife Rescue says they are deeply distressed by the loss of the air tanker and the three American crew who were killed while on firefighting duties with the RFS.

The plane had deployed from the Richmond RAAF base with a load of fire retardant and was headed for the Good Good fire ground north-east of Cooma.

Two Thumbs Wildlife Trust is a trio of koala sanctuaries and a rehabilitation centre two hours south of Canberra established by James Fitzgerald. The sanctuaries comprised Hammer’s Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, Kalandan Wildlife Sanctuary and Irwin’s Corner Wildlife Sanctuary.

The sanctuaries also provided enclosures and other facilities for wildlife rehabilitation and a base for scientific research. Local wildlife rescue groups including Wildcare NSW, LAOKO (Looking After Our Kosciuszko Orphans) and NARG (Native Animal Rescue Group) have used the sanctuaries as a safe release site.

They are also home to a number of other threatened species, including greater gliders, squirrel gliders, Rosenberg’s goanna and the quoll.

The surrounding area was the subject of a research project by the Australian National University. It confirmed that a healthy population of koalas in the Tinderries were eating bark from eucalyptus mannifera trees to access sodium, behaviour unique to the region.

Volunteer organisations including LAOKO have offered their full support to build another koala enclosure and continue the work of rescuing, treating and bringing into care any koalas found in the Peak View and Numeralla area. Teams of koala specialists and international disaster search and rescue and arborists are also providing support.

The feeding program in the area has been suspended due to the dangerous and active fire activity there at the moment.

The Kalandan sanctuary

The Kalandan sanctuary had already been hit heavily in the January 4 fires. Photo: Facebook.

Prior to Thursday’s blaze, the area had already been heavily impacted by fire. A GoFundme page appeal launched by James’s niece Clare Henderson for the Wildlife Trust said that Mr Fitzgerald spent about five weeks before Christmas assisting the Majors Creek Wombat Refuge to prepare for the bushfires, evacuating wombats from the sanctuary and rescuing native animals from the bushfires around the Braidwood area, including a number of koalas from Nerriga.

A number of those koalas were in his care at Two Thumbs.

As a long term RFS volunteer, Mr Fitzgerald fought the Good Good bushfire that directly threatened his home and the sanctuaries on January 4. But when fire flared again Thursday, his home and all of his animal enclosures were destroyed.

“We are devastated. I am thanking you all from the bottom of my heart for the love and support James has received. He has lost his entire life’s work and now more than ever he needs our help to rebuild so he can get back to caring for the animals that he loves so dearly”, Ms Henderson said.

Donations can also be made directly to the Two Thumbs Wildlife Trust, BSB 062 523 Account 1024 7675.

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Sandra Robinson7:51 pm 20 Mar 20

I am a 71yo lady who lives in Bredbo, I have been watching all the stories on the rescue of the Koala that have been hurt in the bush fires. I would be interested to know how I could help James get the Koalas back into his care, I have time each week that I can do things to help. I live with cronic pain but can do things as long as I can sit down. I have been a book keeper all my working live, I am a farmers wife, married for 40yrs, I sew, I would love to be involved with helping James get his santuary ready for receiving the koalas and other native animals, If you think there is something I may be able to do would you contact me and perhaps I could be able to visit and have a chat. Cheers Sandra

Wow, Just wow. So tragic so sad I can’t wrap my head around what this poor man has faced. Everything gone. Just gone leaving him with all of his hard work and love gone. I wish this man the best and that he can pick himself up again and continue to save the lives of so many animals he is truly amazing. ❤️

This is overwhelming. Sorrow upon sorrow. Compounded. Heartfelt sorrow for the brave fire fighters and their families, the families of the three American crewmen, the people impacted directly by the fires, the wildlife rescuers and carers, the many supportive volunteers and donors ……. and ALL the suffering animals …. including wildlife, pets and FARMED animals. We ALL now have to step up and do OUR part to help … in whatever capacity we are able. None of us can remain idle or complacent. This is not over. Not for THIS season. And there will be worse to come. No-one should even dare to question The scientifically PROVEN validity of CLIMATE CHANGE. It is upon us right now! And what are the animal agriculture industries, AND the fossil fuel industries, AND that were elected ( by some ‘miracle’) doing ….. building even bigger feedlots, AND digging even bigger coal mines AND …. still pretending this was just part of a “natural cycle” !! THIS is no ‘cycle’. The planet is crashing into Armageddon …… while Slowmo and Co stand idle, and STILL in defiant denial! Shame on their cold, ignorant souls. How many MORE deaths will it take for you to truly care … and act as LEADERS ?! Sincerely. Chris H.

Paula Willliams11:44 am 26 Jan 20

I would like to see everyone who has a birthday this year, forgoing their presents and, instead, ask people to donate to these causes.

Carol salter10:56 am 26 Jan 20

Very very sad these fires have been horrible

Marion Hedley3:37 am 26 Jan 20

Am so so saddened to read this, for you Clare, for you Mr Fitsgerald but most of all for all your hard work with all your native wildlife. My heart goes out to you James. 💔💔😥😥

Mr Shevill Mathers12:20 pm 25 Jan 20

Heartbreaking at every level. This also looks like a better way to make a donation.

Vicki Stebbins11:29 am 25 Jan 20

My thoughts are with you James, it’s devestating enough what is happening to our wildlife without those in care and such a wonderful release area, now gone as well as your home.

Annette Hogan11:02 am 25 Jan 20

I am so sorry, this should not have happened, so sorry for the koalas and fire fighters lost in the plane. These fires should never have been allowed to reach the mega fires they became. If the Federal Government had taken advice re the fires months ago and had on hand a large fleet of the C 130 the fire may have been contained in November , our own property has been partially burnt out, rain forest included, and the native animals it supported. A terrible tragedy all around, we need urgent action. To protect our forests and wildlife. We need leadership. Love to you❤️

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