Kangaroo Island rising from the ashes

Travelling to Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, Kangaroo Island.

Photographer Lisa Dimitri takes us on a journey through recovering Kangaroo Island in South Australia, shortly after bushfires had ravaged the island.

As part of the Emergency Bushfire and Recovery Appeal, I was invited to accompany the Foundation for Australia’s Most Endangered Species (FAME) on a visit to Kangaroo Island in January 2020. Our first stop was the Western River Refuge where we spoke with representatives from the Kangaroo Island Land for Wildlife Association, which has been working closely with FAME for a number of years to save the critically endangered Kangaroo Island dunnart from extinction.

This project involved the setting up of monitoring cameras surveying several hectares of land, with more than 50,000 images analysed prior to the devastating fires. There was significant headway made with a total of 32 new dunnarts recorded across six different locations, but unfortunately the December/January fires decimated much of the known areas where they lived. The cameras identified a number of dunnart sightings, along with the southern brown bandicoot.

The Australian Wildlife Conservatory were in the process of building a fence to create a 14 hectare safe-haven for dunnarts – the Western River Refuge – against feral predators. A larger fenced area, about 370 hectares, was also being constructed for the dunnart, bandicoot and southern emu wren. We were fortunate to speak with many of the volunteers working on the fences, some of whom had had their own homes destroyed by the fires, then were guided through a few areas in the Western River region by Raptor Domain, where traps for feral predators needed checked.

The fires caused extensive damage to the island and, as we discovered, many of the street signs and directions were illegible. I had travelled to Kangaroo Island previously but nothing looked the same and at various stages during our drive we were unsure if we were even on the right road. There are no words to describe the ghostly silence of nature and the lack of other commuters or tourists.

After a number of detours (due to road and tourist area closures) our final stop for the day was the Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. It was here we viewed the remains of another area severely affected by the fires. We observed one of the few remaining koalas on Kangaroo Island, who was dehydrated and clinging to what was left of the trunk of a burnt eucalyptus tree.

A member of the Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary then took us on a short drive to the coast (near Hanson Bay Beach) to further illustrate the extent of the fires. As we stopped to survey the surrounding areas, there were still pockets of small smoking embers visible and the heat and smell were still so intense it was difficult to breathe. I’ve been a supporter of FAME for many years and am truly grateful to have had this opportunity to join them and document the experience through photography.

Copyright Lisa Dimitri

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Check our other coverage on Kangaroo Island to see how the environment has bounced back after the worst bushfires in the island’s history.

South Coast Road, Kangaroo Island. The silence was haunting - The sounds of nature noticeably absent.
Travelling along parts of Playford Highway, West End Hwy and South Coast Rd, this was all that could be seen.
Hanson Bay, Kangaroo Island. On the opposite side of the bay, you will notice a spot fire still burning during our visit in late January.
South Coast Road, Kangaroo Island. One of the many images captured which not only illustrates the vast area of land destroyed during the bushfires, but also the lack of commuters and tourists on one of the main roads on Kangaroo Island.
South Coast Road, Kangaroo Island. One of the many images captured which not only illustrates the vast area of land destroyed during the bushfires, but also the lack of commuters and tourists on one of the main roads on Kangaroo Island.
Travelling from Western River to Hanson Bay we witnessed many kilometres of remnants from the devastating fires.
Travelling from Western River to Hanson Bay we witnessed many kilometres of remnants from the devastating fires.

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