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

Genevieve Jacobs25 January 2020
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.

What's Your Opinion?

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

Greg Batten Greg Batten 11:08 am 25 Jan 20

Craig Batten ... they died protecting Koalas

    Susan Gordon Susan Gordon 1:51 pm 25 Jan 20

    Greg Batten so grateful, such a huge sacrifice, RIP

Annette Hogan Annette Hogan 11:02 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❤️

Jo Dodds Jo Dodds 10:59 am 25 Jan 20

Tragedy heaped upon tragedy... there are not enough tears..

Denise Walsh Denise Walsh 10:59 am 25 Jan 20

That’s heartbreaking 😢

Deb Parsons Deb Parsons 10:48 am 25 Jan 20

Oh how tragic again on so many levels 😢

Katherine Harrison Katherine Harrison 10:44 am 25 Jan 20

Too sad for words!!😭

Barbara Lee Barbara Lee 10:44 am 25 Jan 20

Only read about this guys sanctuary for wildlife in Sunday’s telegraph so sad for everyone so bloody sad😥😥😥

Joey Kuhlman Joey Kuhlman 10:42 am 25 Jan 20

Oh how heartbreaking!

Kristie MacLaine Kristie MacLaine 10:41 am 25 Jan 20


Jen Stockl Jen Stockl 10:41 am 25 Jan 20

Sorry to hear this 😐

Ancret Shipton Ancret Shipton 10:35 am 25 Jan 20

The news from this crisis just keeps getting worse and worse.... 💔😢

Carol Comerford Carol Comerford 10:34 am 25 Jan 20

So cruel💔

Karen Penrose Karen Penrose 10:32 am 25 Jan 20

The sad face emoticon 😢 just no longer expresses my grief at what is happening to our helpless wildlife. God please stop these fires!

Jessica Brown Jessica Brown 10:29 am 25 Jan 20

Heart breaking 💔

Nancy Northrop Nancy Northrop 10:28 am 25 Jan 20

Yet another tragedy of this hellish summer.

Carmen Risby Carmen Risby 10:27 am 25 Jan 20

Can this get any sadder 😔

Tammy Glass Tammy Glass 10:27 am 25 Jan 20

This is awful 😞

Sue Buckmaster Sue Buckmaster 10:25 am 25 Jan 20

That is just the saddest news

Douglas Alan Simper Douglas Alan Simper 10:25 am 25 Jan 20

Heart breaking.

Sue Griffiths Sue Griffiths 10:23 am 25 Jan 20

So sad. How much more sadness will there be?

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