Bill Waterhouse could be forgiven for feeling a bit paranoid during this horror fire season. The co-founder of the Majors Creek Wombat Refuge is only half-joking when he describes the mad rush from sanctuary to sanctuary, moving rescued animals from one to the next, as they progressively burn in his wake - a kind of killing field.
He had spent the past six weeks moving the dozen or so wombats from his sanctuary to other release points, and is still wondering whether some of them had survived the inferno.
"It almost feels like the release sites themselves are a target from this fire," he said.
"It's almost a paranoia, it's picking on us, it's killing all the native animals in the forests, and then it's picking on the people who are trying to save them."
But nothing could wipe the smile off his face on Tuesday as he gazed down at Essie, the months-old orphaned baby wombat picked up on the roadside after one of the recent fires in NSW.
He was in the living room of Braidwood wildlife rescuer Marion Pearce, who was looking after half a dozen joeys, scattered in bright knitted pouches on the floor.
The animals were oblivious to the fact they were being filmed by a British television crew, flown in from England just days before to find new angles on the Australian calamity.
Mr Waterhouse said he had already received several calls from international media in the past week.
"There's always been strong interest in Australian wildlife from our international friends," he said.
"We sell wombat calendars as a fundraiser and we sell 1000 across the world every year, so we know that at least 1000 people are interested.
"But I think Australians take our native animals not seriously enough. We're a bit lackadaisical about it, we think, oh, 'There are plenty of kangaroos, we can just kill them off with impunity', but we're not so sure that's the case, working at the ground roots level."
He said the figure he heard of half a billion animals killed in the fires so far was entirely possible.
"We've rescued two quolls out at Reidsdale, and that's right where the firefront is, and then it goes back into the Monga [National Park]," he said.
"So we're talking lyrebirds, quolls, sugar gliders, bats, apart from the kangaroos, wallabies and wombats that are quite well-known."
But while the recent and ongoing fires are certainly unprecedented, it was more of a blip in the radar for wildlife protectors, he said.
He said for someone who spent their time rescuing wildlife injured or orphaned from car accidents or other predators, major fires represented a spike in what was a baseline level of panic and fear.
After all, he said, it's much harder to rebuild populations of endangered wildlife than buildings.
"I don't want to diminish the awfulness of losing homes and people' lives," he said, breaking down in tears.
"It feels really personal. Saving the occasional critter is beautiful and we love doing it, but the loss is just incomprehensible."
The story The never-ending quest to save wildlife like Essie first appeared on The Canberra Times.