IN THE NEWS: Thousands of animals injured in Victoria's bushfires

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IN THE NEWS: On FEB 10, 2009

MORE than 10,000 native animals have fallen victim to the bushfire tragedy, wildlife experts say.

Experts estimate thousands more native and domestic animals not killed in the fires now face the threat of starvation.

    * Victoria bushfires: latest news and pictures

Wildlife Victoria president John Rowden said the situation was exasperated by the loss of at least two wildlife shelters to the fires, while the safety of other shelters is still being assessed.

RSPCA chief Maria Mercurio said RSPCA shelters and inspectors were working around the clock to be ready to provide emergency assistance to animals affected by the bushfires.

"The impact is devastating - on people, animals and wildlife - these are not normal times or conditions ... the scale of the disaster is overwhelming,'' she said.

Working out of the Whittlesea relief centre, Ms Mercurio said teams were preparing to enter ravaged areas as soon as they are declared safe.

“We are preparing for the worst. Our inspectors are gearing up to work with various government departments and other animal welfare agencies to provide emergency care to wildlife, companion animals and livestock.

“We will be delivering emergency pet food to relief centres across Victoria including food donated by Hill's Pet Nutrition.

"We've been talking to quite a lot of people at the centre and a lot are telling us they are very worried about pets they have left behind, and there are lots of them,'' she said.

While she said it was too difficult to calculate figures, early estimates run into the thousands.

There are also reports that 100 head of cattle in makeshift paddocks may be let loose in Kinglake in a hope that they will find food and water.

Owners are running out of supplies for the cattle, and with police not allowing extra supplies to go up the mountain, there are fears the cattle will have to be put down or let loose to run around on busfhire affected ground.

Rod Carnegie of Whittlesea-based agricultural company Landmark said it was vital to get food to the stock as soon as possible.

"If they let them back out to find food and water they will run around on the roads.

"If we don't get up there soon they will die."

Meanwhile, The National Farmers Federation says it has been inundated with phone calls from farmers across the country wanting to "lend a hand" in whatever way they can.

NFF president David Crombie said the federation was working with the Victorian branch to work out what was needed on the ground.

"Farmers across the country are rallying to the aid of those devastated by bushfires," he said.

The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association has offered loads of fodder for shipment to fire and drought affected areas to keep livestock alive, while other states are looking at similar measures.

The events of the last few days "rammed home" the devastating and bitter extremes that people on the land face, Mr Crombie said.

"No one is immune."

The University of Melbourne's faculty of Veterinary Science has also offered free care for animals injured in the fires.

The free care is available for pets and horses and will be provided at the university's veterinary clinic and hospital at Werribee, in Melbourne's southwest.

Faculty dean Professor Ken Hinchcliff said his staff were "deeply concerned" for the health and well-being of animals and their owners in bushfire-affected regions.

"After ensuring the safety of themselves and their human loved ones, people affected by the bushfires will want to ensure that their pets are cared for and receive the
veterinary attention they need," he said.

"Veterinary services in the regions affected by bushfires will be stretched to the limit."

Those with injured dogs and cats can phone the veterinary clinic on 9731 2232 (24 hours).

Those with injured horses should phone the university's equine centre on 9731 2268 (24 hours).

People requiring short term emergency accomodation or veterinary care for pets can also phone the RSPCA on 9224 2222.

 - with Gareth Trickey and AAP

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