Maybe you’ve donated to wildlife rescue or the Red Cross funds to help. Maybe you’ve been one of the crafters who have knitted pouches and mittens for injured and orphaned koalas, kangaroos and other iconic Australian wild animals hurt in the fires.
Welcome and much-needed rains have come that are helping to put out the fires. New green buds are even peeping out of the charred landscape.
Lynn Elmhirst, BestTrip TV’s producer/host spoke with officials from Tourism Australia as well as owner/operators of local tourism businesses who came on an urgent trip to North America to provide an update.
It’s not just the actual wildfires themselves that have been damaging to Australia. Misinformation reported about Australia’s wildfires online is hurting the country’s tourism industry.
That directly impacts Australia’s ability to rebuild and to support and protect its famous wildlife.
Debunking Myths about Australia’s Wildfires
Tourism officials and local Australian tour operators explained that bushfires are a natural part of the seasonal cycle in Australia. This year, they admit the annual fires took place on an ‘unprecedented scale’.
But everything you may have seen online about this year’s wildfires is NOT true. Here are 3 of the biggest falsehoods:
Myth #1: All of Australia is on fire.
Online maps that show the entire country ablaze are misleading and false. Fires are focused in specific areas and 97% of Australia is open!
Correct maps, real-time information about locations of fires and updated advice about travel to Australia can be found on this official source: Australia.com
In one example, famous Kangaroo Island was on the news for many days. But as officials pointed out, the part of Kangaroo Island that is NOT burned is still three times the size of the entire country of Singapore!
‘We’ve taken a big hit, but tourism experiences on Kangaroo Island continue… just modified.’
Myth #2: Sydney is on fire.
Australia’s capital is not on fire. Images of the iconic, harbor-side Sydney Opera House under scaffolding have nothing to do with wildfires. It’s a scheduled renovation!
Myth #3: All the animals are dead.
As in the case of any bushfire in any country, there has been a terrible impact on Australian wildlife in the affected areas.
As a Kangaroo Island tour operator pointed out, ‘The humane 1st response to the wildlife in crisis was better than anything we’ve ever seen in Australia’s history.’ In 4 days, they built an animal hospital. A call for 80 volunteers to help care for rescued animals received 13,000 applications.
Now, the focus is conservation and habitat restoration.
How Can Travelers Help?
Reschedule, don't cancel.
Keep travel plans you already have to Australia. Cruise lines and tour operators are proactively modifying itineraries and experiences to ensure you will still see the beautiful scenery, meet those only-in-Australia creatures, and take part in the ‘mate-ship’ lifestyle the country is known for and which the wildfires have not affected.
Talk to your travel advisor about how to modify your trip if you are booked to go to affected areas, or reschedule it so you can still support affected communities.
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You can support Australia’s recovery and rebuilding by:
- supporting their tourism industry,
- sharing positive images of your trip to help counter false online stories,
- spending locally to support local economies to rebuild, and
- visiting wildlife parks and sanctuaries who rely on admission fees to carry on their essential work of preserving habitat and the one-of-a-kind creatures who call Australia home.
Volunteer During Your Trip
Tourism locals are developing ways you can volunteer to help rebuilding and conservation efforts during your vacation in Australia.
Examples of some of the voluntourism programs include
Placing artificial habitats
On Kangaroo Island, for example, endangered cockatoos reside in hollows in trees, and since they are big birds, only mature trees will do. Until large trees are available again, the project is planting boxes at the right height for the cocktaoos to carry on.
Tree planting and habitat restoration
In Australia, the tree-planting window is June-September. Tree-planting projects will be springing up in affected areas all summer.
One example of a specific project is in Melbourne, where small group wildlife tour operator Echinda Walkabout is organizing volunteers to help restore koala habitat.
Protecting remaining wildlife
In an eco-system, the wildlife tour operators explained, ‘if you look after the small things, the big things take care of themselves.’ One project involves establishing tunnels for small mammals that shield them from predators like (non-native) feral pigs and cats that can wipe out surviving small mammals after a fire destroys the undergrowth where the animals usually hide from predators.
Local tourism operators in Australia are working to incorporate volunteer activities into their tours offered by companies like Kensington Tours, Goway, Butterfield & Robinson, and others.
Contacting your travel advisor today to book a trip to Australia is the best way you can be part of the solution to a terrible year of Australian wildfires.
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