Bush fire death toll stands at 181, with 50 more still missing, but millions of animals are feared dead.
Millions of animals are estimated
to have died in the ferocious Black Saturday
bushfires that swept across countryside,
towns and farmland
in Australia's southeast.
By Bonnie Malkin in Melbourne
Kangaroos, wombats, native birds and reptiles stood little chance against the swiftly advancing blazes that devastated more than 400,000 hectares in the state of Victoria.
Corpses of dead wallabies and kangaroos still lined roads in the worst-hit areas, with rescue crews were too busy to clear them from sight. There were also reports of birds and bats falling out of the sky during the fires. One turtle was found with its shell fused together. Another wallaby suffered singed ears.
It is feared that many of the animals that managed to survive the inferno could still die from hunger, after all of their normal food sources were incinerated.
Wildlife experts said wombats that had sheltered in their burrows to survive the blazes now faced starving to death unless they were rescued.
Kangaroos that survived are suffering from burned feet, a result of their territorial behavior. After escaping the initial flames, the creatures - which prefer to stay in one area - likely circled back to their homes, singeing their feet on the smoldering ground.
"It's just horrific," said Neil Morgan, president of the Statewide Wildlife Rescue Emergency Service in Victoria. "It's disaster all around for humans and animals as well."
Hundreds of burned, stressed and dehydrated animals, including kangaroos, koalas, possums, lizards and birds, have already arrived at shelters across the scorched region. Rescuers have doled out antibiotics, pain relievers and fluids in a bid to keep them comfortable, but some of the severely injured were euthanized to spare any more suffering. Others face months of painful rehabilitation.
In some of the hardest-hit areas, rescuers used vaporizing tents to help creatures whose lungs were burned by the searing heat and smoke.
John Rowdon, president of Wildlife Victoria, said one joey had been found with "crispy fried ears".
"[He] stuck his head out of his mum's pouch and lost all his whiskers and cooked up his nose," he said. "They're the ones your hearts really go out to."
A koala, nicknamed "Sam" by her rescuers, has become an international star after she was found moving gingerly on scorched paws by a fire patrol. A video posted on the internet shows firefighter David Tree offering the animal a bottle of water, which she eagerly accepts, holding Mr Tree's hand as he pours water into her mouth.
Coleen Wood, manager of the Mountain Ash Wildlife Shelter, said the plight of one turtle illustrated just how ferocious the fires were.
"We had a turtle come through that was just about melted still alive," she said. "The whole thing was just fused together it was just horrendous. It just goes to show how intense (the fire) was in the area."
Volunteers from the animal welfare group Victorian Advocates for Animals filled 10 giant bins with 2,300 dead grey-headed flying foxes that succumbed to heat stroke Saturday, said Lawrence Pope, the group's president. Volunteers tried to save some of the bats by giving them fluids and keeping them cool, he said, but the creatures were simply too stressed and perished.
"It's heartbreaking. They're very endearing animals and to see them die right before our eyes is something that wildlife rescuers and carers just find appalling."
Hundreds of domestic animals have also been killed and injured by the fires. RSPCA centres have been set up in the towns of Kinglake, Yea and Marysville to treat pets affected by the blazes.
The official human death toll stood at 181 from weekend's deadly fires and authorities said it would exceed 200. While the scope of the wildlife devastation was still unclear, it was likely to be enormous, Mr Rowdon said.
Residents in Kinglake were also desperate for animal feed for birds, horses and sheep.
Maria Mercurio, chief executive of RSPCA Victoria, said the full extent of the suffering was still becoming clear. RSPCA vets were working around the clock to save animals, but some horses and sheep would only start displaying symptoms of smoke inhalation in the coming days, she said.
"They will have difficulty breathing and swallowing and respiratory problems which are indicative of burns in the lungs and throat."
Several dogs and cats had been found by rescue teams hiding under burned out houses, however the fate of many of their owners was still unclear, she said.