Cries from Australia’s wildlife heard in Jerusalem
By David E. Kaplan
Turn on the news on TV these days and the screen flares up in shades of bright orange, with men in protective fighter-fighting garb trying to douse roaring flames.
Australia is in the grip of one of its worst wildfire seasons on record with the human death toll standing at 27 and over 2,000 homes destroyed across more than 10 million hectares of land — an area larger than Portugal.
Caught in this nationwide inferno are Australia’s endearing but vulnerable wildlife, and it is estimated that already 1 billion wild mammals, birds and reptiles have perished. Blessed with a unique eco-system, many species however are now threatened with extinction.
Pictures of koalas with charred feet and kangaroos hugging their human rescuers have through social media and television brought tears to the eyes of people the world over. Many are responding.
The ‘cries’ of these animals were heard in the Israeli capital’s internationally renowned Jerusalem Biblical Zoo that is responding by donating veterinary medical supplies to be used in Victoria’s East Gippsland region.
The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo understands only too well the danger of animals facing extinction, which explains why the zoo’s primary focus is on species from the land of Israel mentioned in the Bible but roam no more!
The zoo projects this history revealing the animals that roamed this region at the time of the forefathers of the Jewish People.
While so many of the world-renowned archeological sites around Jerusalem are a reminder of what life was like in the ancient city, the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo – officially known as the Tisch Family Zoological Gardens – is a ‘living’ reminder of what animals roamed this region in biblical times.
One of the many in Israel watching the human and animal tragedy unfold on her TV was the Biblical Zoo’s International Manager, Rachael Risby Raz, who grew up in Melbourne, and who still has family living there.
Understanding with professional clarity the devastation befalling the flora and fauna of her native Australia, coupled with her position at the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo meant that Raz was well placed for her response to be meaningful and effective.
She knew instinctively what the animals most urgently required and quickly put together “a wish list” of veterinary supplies that included: burn creams, milk formulas, teats for bottles, wound sprays, hydration concentrates, syringes, disinfectant, feeding bottles and more. She then followed up by launching a fundraising campaign to raise money to purchase the equipment online and have it sent directly to the rescuers on the ground. Within 24 hours of launching her appeal, she raised thousands of dollars as more and more heart-wrenching reports of the plight resonated globally.
“It went viral,” she told local media. “Even though we’re so far away – more than 6,000 miles – people are nevertheless so moved and stressed by what’s happening in Australia.”
According to the Biblical Zoo’s press statement, “The supplies will be purchased in Australia and sent directly to the volunteers on the ground,” notably the volunteers working with the East Gippsland Fire Wildlife Support Team.
Although over “6,000 miles” away, The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo felt what was unfolding was close to home as the zoo has a special section dedicated to animals from Australia. “We have a colony of kangaroos who, at the moment, are experiencing a baby boom,” said Raz, “as well as fruit bats which came from Sydney.” They had been rescued after they were injured “and we had a whole group of them come and they live here at our zoo.” The area dedicated to the Down Under also includes a cheeky kookaburra, a bettong, bearded dragons, blue tongue lizards and cockatoos. “This is why it’s probably extra distressing. I look out the window of my office and see kangaroos we know by name and love and then see pictures of their peers in Australia burned – it’s heartbreaking!”
While Raz understands that it’s going to be an uphill struggle and that “the situation is just beginning and going to have consequences that can go on for months, even years,” she sees hope in the overwhelming response from people so far removed geographically from the disaster. After all, these are people who have never even visited Australia and may never visit, but their hearts pour out for these defenseless animals.
In a profound sense, the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo was a ‘natural’ to respond.
Viewing the situation through a biblical prism, Raz asks “What is the role of the zoo?” and then answers herself that “the zoo is like a modern Noah’s Ark. The animals that we have here at the zoo are basically being looked after for the next generation.”
This sentiment is all too evident in the many animals that roamed in the region in the time of the Bible and today no longer do.
This is not something that should be allowed to befall the animals of Australia.
Elsewhere in Israel, Tel Aviv too is galvanizing support for Australia. Fashion model Abbiemay Doré, is one of thousands of Australian ex-pats residing in Israel. Originally from Wodoga, Victoria, the model is helping organize an Australian-themed trivia night at a bar in Tel Aviv to help raise awareness and funds.
While she reveals that she has “never really organized something like this before,” these are extraordinary times in Australia.
“Armageddon Is Here” have read headlines in Australia giving an indication how bad the situation is and how much worse it can still be!
While humanitarian groups like the Tel Aviv-based IsraAid are watching developments closely and considering about different ways in which they can be of assistance, on Instagram, Israel’s ‘Wonder Woman’, Gal Gadot asked her 34 million followers to donate to relief efforts down under. “Nature is so beautiful and powerful and fragile all at the same time,” she wrote. “I’m so devastated.”
“Devastated” is the operative word!
For Israelis the devastation is brought all the more home when one realizes that the area so far devastated is more than double the size of Israel.
From Wonder Woman to the wonderful people of Israel and around the world, may the collective support bring this tragedy to a speedy end and that the animals Down Under don’t themselves go down under.