‘The risk is too high’: Ongoing bushfire threat prompts bird park closure in NSW

Tathra 2550

An animal sanctuary on the New South Wales Far South Coast has decided to close its doors due to the continuous bushfire threat and its inability to guarantee the safety to the hundreds of birds homed on site.

Key points:

  • A bird park in NSW will close because it can no longer guarantee the safety of birds due to the bushfire threat
  • On the Perch Bird Park in Tathra is home to 800 birds, which will be rehomed at other sanctuaries
  • A wildlife park on the central coast of NSW says the ferocity of bushfires is “the new normal”

Steve and Linda Sass opened On the Perch Bird Park in Tathra in September 2015 but, after two evacuations in less than two years, have decided to cease operations due to the stress of protecting 800 birds housed there.

Some of the birds were most recently evacuated over the New Year period but also in March 2018 from the Tathra-Reedy Swamp bushfire.

“The animals always come first,” Mr Sass said.

“We can’t guarantee the safety of the occupants of the sanctuary.”

The Sasses revised their bushfire survival plan following the 2018 fires in the hope they could protect the birds in case of another bushfire.

This included buying generators, installing water pumps, a sprinkler system in the aviaries, and an independent water supply on site.


Owner Steve Sass says he’s putting the animals first. (ABC South East NSW: Adriane Reardon)

Despite this, the owners became increasingly uncomfortable of the risks and have decided to relocate the birds to other sanctuaries across Australia.

“To actually capture and relocate fewer than 50 animals takes a couple of hours,” Mr Sass said.

“Even with extra manpower, it’s not a consideration because that manpower needs to be highly experienced with those animals.”


Park manager Steve Sass says birds are fragile, and are susceptible to smoke inhalation and stress. (ABC South East NSW: Adriane Reardon)

Although the property has not been directly impacted by fire, the birds have suffered from heat stress and smoke inhalation.

“Birds are quite fragile animals. We’ve had losses,” Mr Sass said.

“Every time we’ve driven out that driveway we’ve thought ‘This could be the last time that we see those animals’ … that’s not fair.”

After consulting with other animal carers, Mr Sass decided that it was unrealistic to successfully evacuate the animals in another bushfire situation.

“The park was likely not defendable, and if we tried we would possibly lose our lives,” Mr Sass said.

“We may never see a fire in 50 years. But you only have to look at the fire map to know this fire season has covered a lot of ground. And the risk is too high.”


Co-owner of the Walkabout Wildlife Park Tassin Bernard captures a kangaroo to relocate during the bushfires. (Supplied: Walkabout Wildlife Park)

‘This is our new normal’

The unprecedented bushfire season has also caused an animal sanctuary on the Central Coast to revise its bushfire survival plan.

The Walkabout Wildlife Park in Calga has evacuated hundreds of animals on four separate occasions over its 14-year history, the most recent being in November 2019 due to the Gospers Mountain Fire.

But co-owner Tassin Bernard said bushfires were not the same as they used to be.

“We have evacuated before, but it’s always been the old days of bushfires,” she said.

“We’ve never faced a fire of this size and ferocity.”

Staff were told they had between three to 10 days to relocate their animals from the sanctuary before the fire front hit.

Following a call-out on social media for travel crates, food containers, and catching nets, 65 species including birds, mammals and reptiles managed to be moved to other sanctuaries in Sydney, Helensburgh, and Blackbutt.

“With nearly 300 animals relying on us to keep them safe, we couldn’t wait until the fire was on our doorstep,” Ms Bernard said.

“We had a lot of work to do and we had to move fast.”

The evacuation was made largely successful by the support of the community and the accessible location to neighbouring sanctuaries.

However, Ms Bernard said plans were in place to make the property more defendable and ensure they adapted to a potential future of unprecedented bushfire seasons.

“This is our new normal. We are going to see it again,” she said.

“I don’t believe that this is a one-off.”


Staff relocated 65 species including koalas, kangaroos, wombats and peacocks during a recent fire. (Supplied: Walkabout Wildlife Park)

Ms Bernard said she felt a responsibility to continue to care and protect animals in need.

“We need to preserve it as a wildlife sanctuary for those animals that are now homeless because they’ve lost their natural environment,” she said.

“We were never ready for a super-charged mega-fire. Now we are.”

Source: https://www.abc.net.au/news