'Rough end of the stick': Drought toll on wildlife starts to mount
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'Rough end of the stick': Drought toll on wildlife starts to mount

The worsening drought is beginning to affect the state's wildlife, drawing animals closer to roads and towns and triggering a big jump in calls to rescuers.

With all of NSW declared in drought, competition for grazing for kangaroos has intensified. Drying or dying trees have also cut the moisture available to marsupials such as koalas and possums, Christie Jarrett, vice chair of the Central West branch of the WIRES rescue service, said.

Thirsty kangaroos gather for a drink at a residential fountain in Gunnedah as the drought's grip tightens.

Thirsty kangaroos gather for a drink at a residential fountain in Gunnedah as the drought's grip tightens. Credit:Peter Lorimer

While farmers are often able to secure bales of fodder to keep their stock going, "wildlife gets the rough end of the stick" at times like this, Ms Jarrett said. "It's starting to affect animals more and more."

Based about halfway between Orange and Bathurst, Ms Jarrett's WIRES branch has registered a big rise in calls to treat kangaroos. So far this year, her team has rescued or had to euthanise 722 roos, up from 440 for all of 2016.

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Drivers should pay special heed particularly at night as kangaroos gravitate to roadside in search of grass.

Likewise, fringes of towns and cities are likely to see more animals so long as the rain holds off, Ms Jarrett said. "We need it desperately."

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Mardi Cook, a coordinator with WIRES New England in Armidale, said "there's just no living creature that's not affected".

Koalas are unusually on the move as trees wilt and leaves become less nutritious, leaving them at risk of attack from dogs or being hit by cars. Birds such as barn owls and tawny frogmouths are also being found in poor health or injured after chasing mice to roadside verges, Ms Cook said.

Very little to graze on for an Emu hen and her chicks in the drought-stricken Liverpool Plains in northern NSW.

Very little to graze on for an Emu hen and her chicks in the drought-stricken Liverpool Plains in northern NSW. Credit:Peter Lorimer

One challenge is to find properties where animals can be released after care.

"We've had animals coming home for a feed" after release, Ms Jarrett said. "That's unusual."

Another is that more people have been given licences to shoot kangaroos to reduce numbers, resulting in additional calls to care for badly injured animals or surviving offspring. "It's a really bad situation," Ms Jarrett said.

With many marsupials carrying young in pouches - such as roos, wombats, possums and koalas - people finding a struggling animal should check - providing it's safe to do so - for any joey that may be alive, she said.

Other steps to help wildlife include putting out shallow bowls of water or appropriate feed. Longer term, planting native trees and plants will increase the food sources.

The full impact of the drought will take time to play out as offspring numbers drop, Ms Jarrett said: "It's probably going to have bigger implications for years to come."

Those seeking an animal rescue or to make a donation to WIRES can ring 1300 094 737.

Peter Hannam is Environment Editor at The Sydney Morning Herald. He covers broad environmental issues ranging from climate change to renewable energy for Fairfax Media.