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

Michelle Zuvela Michelle Zuvela 3:18 pm 25 Jan 20

Tremendously sad on so many counts

Suzy Whymark Suzy Whymark 3:17 pm 25 Jan 20

So far beyond tragic ... 😒

Sharon Hunter Sharon Hunter 2:49 pm 25 Jan 20

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

Katherine Adams Katherine Adams 2:23 pm 25 Jan 20

Absolute tragedy

Caralyn Naylor Caralyn Naylor 1:39 pm 25 Jan 20


Doris Gerwien Doris Gerwien 1:36 pm 25 Jan 20

Oh no. There to sad I am right now πŸ’”πŸ’”

Fay Hug Fay Hug 1:29 pm 25 Jan 20

Unbelievably sad.

Jo Frasca Jo Frasca 1:20 pm 25 Jan 20

Oh my goodness how bad does this need to get before it ends. So much loss. It’s unsustainable. Such devastating news about the firefights and now our dear and threatened koalas. I’m speechless.

Mr Shevill Mathers Mr Shevill Mathers 12:20 pm 25 Jan 20

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

Jill Cregan Jill Cregan 12:11 pm 25 Jan 20

just devastated for those men!! very sad about the sanctuary as well.. it's not only the fires..but the aftermath as well...

Pauline Lovitt Pauline Lovitt 12:03 pm 25 Jan 20

Such a sad story.

Ann Schroeder Ann Schroeder 11:56 am 25 Jan 20

That's so sad.

Many lives lost.


Kim Easton Kim Easton 11:53 am 25 Jan 20

How absolutely gut wrenching...there is no emoticons for any of what I am feeling at this news, love tears and respect for those who died helping us, devestation for their families and friends who both gave and lost so much, sadness for the man who cared for the koalas only to lose them, sorrow for the loss of the koalas and other innocent wildlife and the list goes on ... I am lost for words...

    Colleen Spears Colleen Spears 4:37 pm 25 Jan 20

    I know, the pain is so deep and raw. And we have a long term reminder of this aweful aweful time. Depressed to the core.

Celia James Celia James 11:52 am 25 Jan 20

Why are we relying on overseas & Australian volunteers to fight our Bush fires? This is a National Emergency Morrison and needs a National response NOW. Stop distracting with your Sports Ministers corrupt practices and get on with your job. Mobilise the Air force & Army (not just the Reserves); start resourcing the RFS and other vital areas. LISTEN to experts ...and act. Use our taxes wisely otherwise we might take the lessons from the super rich ...and stop paying tax. Think about it Morrison- as our employee you are proving incompetent and unable to do the job.

Amanda Evans Amanda Evans 11:51 am 25 Jan 20

This is such a tragedy for everyone those who lost their lives both human and animal ...and for Fitzgerald's work. So very sad.

I hope many people can donate to get things up and running again.

Helen M Lynch Helen M Lynch 11:45 am 25 Jan 20

So very sorry for the loss of all you wonderful work and the animals.

Vicki Stebbins Vicki Stebbins 11:29 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.

Jenn Tranter Jenn Tranter 11:26 am 25 Jan 20

Such loss 😒😒

Jennifer Hain Jennifer Hain 11:22 am 25 Jan 20

This is all too horrible.

Kathy Jay Kathy Jay 11:13 am 25 Jan 20

Devastating news πŸ’”πŸ˜’ Such a tragic loss of life, praying for our communities, fire fighters, wildlife, and all the unsung heros of the bush. Thankyou πŸ™β€πŸ™β€πŸ™β€