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"Immense" dead sheep financial toll for KI farmers

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The number of sheep lost in the Kangaroo Island bushfires could cost the local economy over $6 million, early estimates show, with plans underway for emergency fodder supply for the approximate 600,000 sheep that survived the inferno to be transported to the island.

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As of this afternoon, more than 36,000 livestock losses had been reported to Primary Industries and Regions SA, including mostly sheep but also alpacas, cattle and horses.

The livestock toll could still rise as animal heath officers continue to inspect and assess injured animals and more than 200 fire-damaged properties.

Kangaroo Island mayor Michael Pengilly said he expected sheep losses on the island to reach as high as 100,000, with some farmers returning to their properties to find their whole stock wiped out by the ongoing fires, which have burnt through 210,000 hectares.

Pengilly, who also owns a farm on Kangaroo Island, said calculating the market loss depended on the breed of sheep, with cross breed ewes fetching about $200 to $250 each and marino ewes likely to be worth about $180 to $200 on the current market.

“There is an immense financial value that’s been lost,” he told InDaily this morning.

“I had someone ring a while ago saying they had lost 100 sheep, others tell me they have lost their whole stock and they’re basically just left with nothing.

“Financially, it’s a huge amount for an island that’s heavily dependent on sheep.”

Livestock SA president Joe Keynes said it was difficult to determine the exact number of animals lost in the Kangaroo Island fires as authorities still had about 30 properties to assess.

He described the situation as “tragic” for the farmers who faced livestock losses, but said meat prices would not be significantly impacted.

“If you lose 100,000 stock it’s a huge number on the local economy,” he said.

“But, Australia-wide there’s about 65 million sheep, so the impact on Australia’s lamb production is going to be reasonably small.

“The lamb prices are quite high at the present so I don’t think there will be any significant increase.”

Adding to farmers’ woes is depleting fodder stocks for the surviving 600,000 sheep on the island, with Pengilly telling InDaily authorities were finding it difficult transport emergency hay and feed from the mainland.

He said there was currently “nowhere near enough” fodder on the island, meaning farmers could soon be forced to put down sheep.

“This is going to go on for months – we’re going to be struggling with the lack of fodder for a long time yet,” he said.

A PIRSA spokesperson told InDaily its teams had been in contact with more than 200 registered livestock property owners on the island since the beginning of the fires.

The spokesperson said fodder supplies had arrived on the island and would continue to be brought in.

“There are currently no issues with distribution to fire-affected areas,” the spokesperson said.

“Currently there are 350 tonnes (of hay) at Cape Jervis, which are being moved to Kangaroo Island over the next three nights and Livestock SA have a further commitment of approximately 400 tonnes that is currently en-route to the island, which will also be delivered over the next week.”

More than 800 beehives and 115 nucleus hives have also been destroyed in the fires.

Kangaroo Island is home of the unique Ligurian bee, which is protected from disease by strict rules, including restrictions on products like honey and wax, hives and equipment.

The severity and extent of the fires have prompted ecologists to fear for the future of some of Kangaroo Island’s endangered native wildlife, including the glossy black-cockatoo and the Kangaroo Island dunnart – a mouse-like marsupial.

Ecologists have also estimated 25,000 koalas have perished in the fire, which is half the island’s population of the animals.

Kangaroo Island is one of the only places in Australia where koalas are chlamydia-free.

The Ravine fire on the island remains active, with the Country Fire Service today responding to flare ups and hot spots both on the fire perimeter and in significant areas of unburnt vegetation.

An advice message is currently in place for Flinders Chase, Ravine des Casoars wilderness area, Vivonne Bay, Parndana, Cygnet River and the island’s north coast.

Health Minister Stephen Wade today announced people impacted by the fires on Kangaroo Island would be able to access prescribed medication from pharmacies without a prescription.

“People who have had to evacuate have enough concerns without having to worry about destroyed prescriptions,” he said.

“These new regulations will allow pharmacists to fulfil their duty of care to patients in times of emergencies and also better support the health and wellbeing of their local communities.”

 with AAP

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