IN THE NEWS: On FEB 4, 2020
A New Zealand vet who flew to Australia to help treat wildlife says she has gone home disappointed that authorities prevented her from entering fire-affected areas.
Veterinarian Dr Rebecca Penman is just one of a growing list of wildlife carers who have expressed frustration, alleging that the Victorian department of environment (DELWP) has blocked their access to burnt out forests.
While DELWP has sent its own teams into the forests, with 1.5 million hectares scorched and countless animals likely dying of burns and starvation, wildlife professionals are questioning why they are not being allowed to assist in what they believe should be a massive medical operation.
"They're saying we don't need any volunteers, we don't need anyone helping," Dr Penman told Yahoo News Australia.
"But there's plenty of wildlife out there, the government is just pushing back."
Dr Penman joined a Wildlife Victoria animal rescue team led by experienced darter Ian Slattery and travelled through fire affected East Gippsland from Orbost to Buchan.
"We heard that the government were doing food drops over Buchan, so we figured there must be animals being sighted," Mr Slattery said.
"We obtained the required permit to get access to Buchan Road, off the Princes Highway, so we got through the police road block.
"But when we got down to Buchan we were told that we basically had to turn around and go back home."
Dr Penman and Mr Slattery allege they were told by an official based at the CFA control centre that the order to leave was coming from DELWP.
The team were led to believe that the nearest triage centre manned by a vet was 60km away in Bairnsdale, but despite having medical supplies they were instructed to go.
"They had heard that we were coming - they actually said that, 'we heard you were coming but you're to go back'", Mr Slattery alleges.
"I had the whole team there, two experienced rescuers, a vet, a vet nurse, medical supplies, everything and we were turned away.
"The reasons given were that there are safety issues, there are other teams there, they basically hadn't planned for us to be around.
"I made it clear to them that we had a vet with us, but none of that made any difference, we were just told to go back."
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Sources told Yahoo News Australia that ongoing tension between animal welfare groups and the department led to a meeting last Wednesday that included veterinarians along with representatives of Animals Australia and Wildlife Victoria.
Those privy to the details of the meeting have privately expressed frustration, saying that DELWP has not offered them a timeline as to when access to state parks and national parks will be granted.