Hunter Wildlife Rescue inundated with animals after heatwave and bushfires

CUDDLE TIME: Hunter Wildlife Rescue volunteers Michelle Bowen and Judy Hopper with some of the animals that are being cared for at Judy's Millfield home. Picture: Krystal Sellars
CUDDLE TIME: Hunter Wildlife Rescue volunteers Michelle Bowen and Judy Hopper with some of the animals that are being cared for at Judy's Millfield home. Picture: Krystal Sellars

Judy Hopper says this summer is the worst she has seen in her 19 years as a wildlife carer.

The Hunter Wildlife Rescue volunteer is caring for about 60 flying foxes and various other animals - including wombats and joeys - at her Millfield home after the recent heatwave and bushfires.

Ms Hopper estimates about 20,000 flying foxes have died due to heat stress this summer at colonies including East Cessnock, Tenambit and Blackalls Park.

She said the heat also led to a "mass abandonment" in mid-November - something that's very rare in bats, as mothers are protective of their young.

Just like human babies, young flying foxes require round-the-clock care - feeding on milk or juice four times a day, and needing "cuddle time" when they are distressed.

Ms Hopper said she has up to four volunteers at her place at a time - some staying overnight - to help nurse these little bats until they are strong enough to be moved to a care facility in Queensland.

The baby flying foxes will take part in a 'creche' where they are guided by a young adult bat, before being transitioned to a release cage, where they will be support-fed until they can be integrated into the colony.

The mass bat die-off prompted a health warning from the Hunter New England Local Health District, urging people to avoid contact with bats as they may carry disease.

Ms Hopper said while the general public should not handle bats, they also shouldn't fear them.

"The chances of dying from a bat bite are extremely low - a healthy bat won't harm you," she said.

"You are more likely to die from something another human causes."

Ms Hopper said bats also play an extremely important role when it comes to pollinating our bushfire-fragmented forests.

"With no bats the forests won't be able to regenerate. They are so crucial," she said.

In addition to the bats, Ms Hopper and her fellow volunteers are caring for several animals that have fled nearby forests during the recent bushfires.

Volunteers have also set up feed and water stations in the forests (including Corrabare and Pokolbin) and neighbouring properties, in the hope of coaxing animals out of the bush so they can be assessed for care.

"We are trying to save the animals that have made it through the fire," Ms Hopper said.

"We will be able to review if the animals have been burnt and need to get into care."

Ms Hopper said the community has been very generous - from the landholders who have allowed access to their properties, to the people who donated wraps and pouches for the baby animals, to two young men travelled from the Gold Coast with 1000 litres of water and helped volunteer Michelle Bowen to set up water stations in Corrabare forest on Thursday.

Donations including fruit, kangaroo pellets, Economix feed, and water tubs or drums are among the items that would be appreciated at this time.

Call 0418 628 483 (0418 NATIVE) and ask to be put in touch with Judy if you can help.

New members can join online at www.hunterwildlife.org.au, and donations can also be made via the website.