Tiny victim uncovered after controlled burn

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A recent controlled burn in the Tipperary Hill area scorched more than bushland.

It also burnt wildlife.

A native shingleback lizard was left with such badly burnt feet he was unable to move to collect food.

In the cold overnight temperatures and in great pain, he was starving to death, qualified Maryborough wildlife carer, Brenda Cheers, says.

But the badly burnt little shingleback was lucky.

“A boy found him and brought him home to show his parents,” Brenda said.

“When he arrived here on March 31 he was very cold and very clearly in a lot of pain.

“His feet were badly burnt and the top of his head was also scorched.

“The people who brought him in said the controlled burn had happened about 10 days before so we were looking at 10 days since he’d eaten and his tail was very flat indicating he certainly hadn’t eaten.”

Brenda said shingleback lizards eat pests like snails, among many things, and store fat in their tails as nourishment to survive on while hibernating during the cold winter months.

“Normally, he would now be going into hibernation,” she said.

But the little native reptile’s days of pain and starvation meant he had no fat store left to hibernate on.

So Brenda’s care regime includes bringing him in, and out of, a state of semi-hibernation known as torpor.

She places him on a heat pad to raise his body temperature, bringing him out of torpor to feed him.

The heat pad is then left on so the lizard’s body temperature will be sufficient to enable him to digest his meal.

“We have to warm him up with the heat source so he can digest the food before we let him go back into torpor or the food would rot in his system and he would die,” Brenda explained.

Then Brenda turns off the heat pad to allow him to go back into torpor for a couple of days at a time, mimicking his normal behaviour for this time of year.

“He feels like he’s been in the fridge when he’s been in torpor,” she said.

In the month since he’s been at the Maryborough shelter the native lizard has been recovering well and gaining weight on a diet of easy-to-digest pear and banana baby food.

“When he came in he weighed 380 grams. Two weeks later his weight was 496 grams,” Brenda said.

“Now he would weigh over 500 grams.”

Brenda says the lizard would certainly die had he not been rescued.

“We’re just hoping his claws grow back” she said.

“In the warmer spring days, and when he’s nice and fat, we should be able to release him back into the wild.”

Brenda said that while larger animals like kangaroos can usually escape controlled burns, many other native creatures are killed by the practice.

“The reality is that controlled burns do kill thousands of reptiles and other animals like echidnas would also die,” she said.

“Some of the controlled burns happen at a time when birds are nesting and so the young can’t escape.

“There are some wildlife shelters where, if there is going to be a controlled burn, they will get permission to go into the forest afterwards and search and it’s amazing what they find.”

Brenda’s husband, Garry Cheers, a flora and fauna consultant, said hollow-bearing trees that are vital habitat for many species are frequently lost to controlled burns.

“The ground cover and shrubs will come back reasonably quickly but the hollow-bearing trees may take 100 years to come back,” he said.

Besides the recuperating shingleback, Brenda was also caring for 11 wallabies or kangaroo joeys around the clock, when The Advertiser visited the shelter last week.

She said one of the small joeys had been brought in the day before by a motorist who had bothered to stop and check the pouch of a kangaroo lying dead beside the road in the Talbot area.

“If people see marsupials of any kind lying on the road then please just stop and move them off the road and check to see if there is a pouch and anything in the pouch,” Brenda said.

“And if anyone is walking in the forest after a controlled burn then just keep your eyes open and if you see something that’s a problem take it straight to a vet or a shelter. Don’t take it home.”

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